After the milk has gel has been allowed to reach the desired firmness, it is carefully cut into small pieces with knife blades or wires. This shortens the distance and increases the available area for whey to be released. The curd pieces immediately begin to shrink and expel the greenish liquid called whey. This syneresis process is further driven by a cooking stage. The increase in temperature causes the protein matrix to shrink due to increased hydrophobic interactions, and also increases the rate of fermentation of lactose to lactic acid. The increased acidity also contributes to shrinkage of the curd particles. The final moisture content is dependant on the time and temperature of the cook stage. This is important to monitor carefully because the final moisture content of the curd determines the residual amount of fermentable lactose and thus the final pH of the cheese after curing.
When the curds have reached the desired moisture and acidity they are separated from the whey. The whey may be removed from the top or drained by gravity. The curd-whey mixture may also be placed in moulds for draining. Some cheese varieties, such as Colby, Gouda, and Brine Brick include a curd washing which increases the moisture content, reduces the lactose content and final acidity, decreases firmness, and increases openness of texture.
Curd handling from this point on is very specific for each cheese variety. Salting may be achieved through brine as with Gouda, surface salt as with Feta, or vat salt as with Cheddar. To achieve the characteristics of Cheddar, a cheddaring stage (curd manipulation), milling (cut into shreds), and pressing at high pressure are crucial.