Cheese making

Westmalle Trappist cheese is made in an artisanal way with fresh milk from the abbey’s cows. The monks are involved in almost every stage of the process. Would you like to follow the journey?

  • : Cows eat whilst they are milked
  • Milking the cows in Westmalle

Milking our own cows

First of all, we milk the cows. They spend the winter in their barn on the abbey farm. In spring and summer, they graze the pastures surrounding the abbey. We do not add any preservatives or colouring agents to the milk. Cheeses made with the milk from cows that have wintered in the barn has a slightly different colour from that made with the milk of cows that graze outdoors.

The cows are milked twice a day in an auto-tandem, or carousel, which has space for 28 animals. They are fed and milked at the same time, which means that they make their own ways into the milking stalls, so there is a calm, peaceful atmosphere. Most of the milk is used in the abbey’s own dairy. The remainder is sold to a local dairy.

  • Pumping milk from the cooling tank into the cheese tub
  • The milk starts to curdle
  • Stiring and heating of the milk.
  • Pressed curds

Producing the curd

Next, we pump the milk from the cooling tank across to the cheese tub. We then add lactic acid bacteria to convert the lactose (the sugar found in milk) into lactic acid. The milk now starts to curdle and becomes firm. The lactic acid prevents harmful bacteria from developing, and it also affects the cheese in a positive way by enhancing its taste, aroma, texture and firmness.

We heat the milk to a temperature of 30°C, stirring continuously. We then add the rennet, a substance that causes the milk to coagulate and set. The mixture then rests for half-an-hour while nature does its work. Soon a jelly-like mass starts to form: this is the curd.

  • The hydraulic press compresses the curd
  • The first press results in a firm block of cheese
  • Cutting blocks of Westmalle cheese
  • Filling rectangular cheese moulds
  • Pressing down the cheese into the mould.

Cutting and pressing the curd

As soon as the curd is firm enough it is cut into small pieces. We are now able to separate the whey – the liquid that remains after the firm curds have separated – more easily, before rinsing the firm curds in warm water.

After rinsing, the curd is placed into rectangular cheese moulds where a hydraulic press removes even more whey from the cheese. The cheese is pressed three times: once over a 15-minute period and twice for 45 minutes each. This process compresses the particles of the cheese into a homogenous structure.

  • After pressing the cheese is removed from the mould
  • The cheese is trimmed up.
  • The cheeses enter a bath filled with brine, a salty solution
  • The cheeses remain for several hours in a bath filled with brine
  • After the bath, a protective coating is applied to the cheeses.
  • The cheeses mature slowly on wooden shelves.

Brine bath and maturation

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The cheese is next steeped in a brine bath for 10 hours. The salt reinforces the zesty taste and also ensures that the cheese can be stored for longer.

Finally, the cheese will rest in a dedicated ripening chamber at a temperature of between 13°C and 15°C. The high humidity in the chamber (85% to 95%) ensures the cheeses do not dry out. It is during this stage that the crust is formed. After a few days we apply a protective coating to prevent the cheese from drying. It also protects the cheese from mould. We turn the cheeses every day by hand.

After two months, the first batch of cheese is ready for tasting. In the ripening chamber the cheeses evolve over a period of two, six or 12 months.

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