My next stop is next-level cheese production, the Sodiaal Cooperative in Annecy is a heavyweight cheese production.
My host Jack Fahed, the sales manager from Otramont who looks after the Middle East region, was our guide for the Emmental cheese plant. Unlike the previous manufacturing sites I’d visited so far on the trip, this was on a huge commercial scale. Milk is transported to the plant from as far as Brittany, as rural grazing gives the Emmental its distinct taste. Like much of the cheese production I’d seen in France, this plant is now fully automated.
Each cheese wheel starts its long journey through the plant by being off-loaded from the trucks manually, then the machines take over. During the three-week ripening process, each wheel is inspected weekly, there three tests that can determine the stage of ripening. If the surface of the wheel is rounded, this indicates that air pockets are forming. In the third test, using a special tool, a section of cheese is taken from the wheel to check the size of the holes.
Each cheese wheel starts its long journey through the plant by being off-loaded from the trucks manually, then the machines take over.
The ideal size should be the size of a cherry, much like the cheese you would see in Tom & Jerry cartoons. Once the orders are placed, the electronic system selects the wheels from the caves, depending on the age, ready for processing. Robots remove the wheels from the caves.
Each wheel is then transported to the processing plant. First, they are blasted with 80-degree water, the computer then selects one of three channels for the cheese. Sliced, shredded or cut into huge 5 kg blocks, these are sent to catering companies and hotels. As we follow the three processes, we stop briefly at a fourth, the cream cheese production unit, still in its prime and on a much smaller scale.
Cream cheese is produced for commercial use, for restaurant dessert recipes such as cheesecake and pastries. Within two hours, I had seen the huge wheels stacked, flipped washed, sliced and shredded in a seamless production process, but like the other facilities, I had visited the original process of cow’s milk and rennet is still the same.
One of the questions I asked was, if the wheels are cut into blocks, what happens to the excess? Jack replied, nothing is wasted: the cheese is shredded, just like what you would buy and use to top a pizza. This completely changed my attitude to buying pre-grated cheese in bags, I have now seen where it actually comes from.