Whether you’re a cheese connoisseur or just like to throw it in with your lasagna, homemade cheese will give you a delicious (not to mention inexpensive!) blend of flavors—exactly the way you want. And believe it or not, making your own homemade cheese is actually easier than you might think, it just takes some practice. Learn some of the basics of cheese making and how it can change the way you look at cheese.
Why should I make my own cheese?
By making your own cheese, you’re actually getting a lot more than just better taste. Check out five benefits to making your own cheese.
1. No artificial ingredients. Commercially sold cheese tends to have added food coloring, growth hormones, pesticides, or GMO-heavy ingredients, according to Cultures for Health and FineCooking.com. When you make your own cheese, everything you put into it is completely natural, making it a healthier addition to your meals. And it never hurts to know exactly what you are putting into the food that you’ll be putting into your body.
2. It’s inexpensive. Making your own cheese is a great way to try all the exotic varieties of cheese without breaking the bank. The only supplies you need are a heavy-bottomed pot, kitchen thermometer, cheesecloth, and some cultures (but we’ll get into that later).
3. Fast and Easy. Once you learn how to make cheese, it’s a process that becomes fast and easy, no matter what type of cheese you decide to try. The basic process is the same for most cheeses, so no matter what you want to make, you’ll already have the basics down.
4. Children love it. Most kids love cheese, and letting them be a part of making it is a great activity. It’s also a fun way to teach them about science and chemistry as you use bacteria, enzymes, and naturally formed acids to solidify and preserve milk protein, and fat.
5. It’s delicious. Do I really need to say any more? No matter what flavor of cheese you choose to make, it’ll make a tasty addition to your meals and snacks.
Making cheese requires some basic supplies to help you get the best possible results. Make sure you have the following equipment and ingredients on hand before you start.
Fresh Milk: The fresher the milk, the better. The best flavor of cheese comes from unpasteurized milk (although you’ll want to let it cure for 2-4 months if you’re worried about pathogens in it); however, you can also use pasteurized milk, whole milk, or skim milk. Using anything other than unpasteurized milk may require you to add extra ingredients (such as more Calcium Chloride in pasteurized milk to help it coagulate). Remember, the fresher and fattier the milk, the richer and better the taste. Note: Ultra-pasteurized milk is not recommended to make cheese because it has difficulty coagulating. It can, however, work for making yogurt.
Cultures: Cultures are the bacteria or chemicals you add to acidify your milk and help the curing process. There are two types of cultures: Thermophilic and Mesophilic. The one you need will depend on the cheese you make. Thermophilic cultures are used for cheeses that are scalded to high temperatures. Mesophilic cultures are for those that don’t heat beyond 102° F.
A lot of cultures are considered “mixed cultures” where there are multiple strains of bacteria included. The mix of the culture can change quickly due to temperature and storage conditions so it can be harder to know exactly what the mix of those cultures is. You can also use pure cultures (where there’s only one strain of bacteria present, making it easier to know exactly what bacteria is in the culture) from cheese-making supply houses.
Rennet: Rennet is the enzyme that causes acidified milk to gel together and to form a “clean break”. A clean break is when the coagulated milk holds itself together when you probe the mixture with a table knife or finger. In order to get a clean break, the milk must be undisturbed during its gelling process. You can use rennet liquid, powder, or tablets.
Heavy Stainless Steel Pot with Lid: It’s important to use a pot with a heavy bottom to help disperse the heat evenly without scorching the milk. You can also use a heavy enameled pot. Just make sure you don’t use an aluminum one which will react with the acidifiers (bacteria or inorganic chemicals that produce or become acids to help with the curing) used in the process.
Measuring Cups: Have a variety of measuring cups and spoons on hand. Accurate measurements will help your cheese turn out better.
Thermometer: While cooking and cooling your cheese, it’s important to keep an accurate temperature reading. The texture of your cheese depends on it and can change with a sudden shift in temperature, even by one degree.
Large Whisk: This helps to mix the rennet and starter. Rennet is the enzyme that causes acidified milk to gel together. The starter is the bacteria or acidifiers you add to your milk so that the rennet will work and the curds will form.
“Cheese Cloth”: Use a type of “cheese cloth” or white cotton fabric (such as a handkerchief or a non-terry sterilized dish towel) to drain the liquid whey proteins from the solid curds. If possible, avoid using what is sold at supermarkets as “cheese cloth”. Typically, this fabric is too flimsy and the open-weave material will let your curd slip through. If you do choose to use the supermarket’s cheese cloth, layer a few pieces at different angles to minimize curd loss.
Cheese Press: This tool is used to apply pressure to fresh curds, exposing the milk protein and allowing the loose curds to bond with each other to form solid cheese. The cheese press is required if you plan on making a hard cheese (Parmesan, Romano, Cojita, aged Gouda, etc.). You can purchase a press from a cheese-making supply house, or make your own if you’re only making a pound or two.
Wax: Waxing the outside of your cheese prevents it from molding or spoiling while it ages. Make sure to use a wax that will resist cracking (unlike Paraffin) so that your cheese doesn’t spoil or grow mold through the wax’s weak spots. Check out how to wax your cheese here.
Before beginning, prepare your kitchen by scrubbing your counters, stove, and sink thoroughly. Each type of cheese requires the growth of specific bacteria in the mixture of basic ingredients. Any unwanted bacteria that get into the mixture can ruin your batch of cheese.
The process for each type of cheese (soft, semi-soft, hard, extra-hard) is fairly similar, with slight variations to make each cheese different. For example, the process for making Cheddar cheese and Colby cheese starts out the same, but the Colby cheese has an extra step where more water is added, giving you a moister cheese in the end.
Learn more about cultures from CheeseMaking.com.
Learn more about Rennet from CheeseMaking.com.
Learn more about cheese-making and get more recipes at the sites below: