Beginner Cheese Maker
Getting Started Product Questions Basic Procedures
Cheese is produced from milk due
to the activity of special dairy bacteria and the action of rennet.
These act on the proteins in milk, causing them to coalesce into a
gel-like curd which is the beginning of cheese. Cheese may be made from
almost any kind of milk – goat’s, sheep’s, powdered dry, skimmed, 1%,
2%, etc. (See
mission is to make it as easy as possible for you to make cheese. In
addition to all the information on our website, we have a
blog with pictures covering all aspects of cheese making. If you still have questions, you may e-mail our technical advisor, Jim Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. How do I start making cheese?
We always encourage people to start with a small
investment and proceed from there. For this we have developed several
kits for the home cheese maker. Our
Gourmet Home Dairy Kit is the absolutely easiest way to start because the cheeses are all soft, requiring no aging. Also, our Fresh Goat Cheese Kit has very simple recipes for cheeses which do not require aging.
The popular Basic Hard Cheese Kit
is a good way to start if you would like to begin making hard cheeses.
(You will need to order wax for the aged cheeses. One or two pounds will
be enough to get you started.) This kit contains a mold for forming the
cheese. All you need to do is find a jar lid or plate that fits inside
and a little weight to place on top. (We do not recommend that beginners
buy a press until they have made a few batches this way.)
Value-wise, our best deal is the Starter Special, which includes the Mozzarella Kit, our book, Home Cheese Making, and a DVD
of Ricki teaching Cheesemaking 101. If you are a person who learns
better by seeing things demonstrated than by reading about them, the DVD
will help you enormously. In it, Ricki teaches her beginner workshop.
You will find free recipes and newsletters with loads of information on our website and at our blog (cheesemakinghelp.blogspot.com). For those who really
want to jump-start their home cheese making, we offer beginner and advanced
workshops. (If you live too far from us, see our blog article- Finding a Cheese Making Class Near You)
2. How is home cheese making different from commercial?
Home cheese making differs from commercial cheese making in scale and in the need to produce exact duplicate products day after day for retail markets. Commercial cheese makers employ the same raw ingredients as home cheese makers, but their knowledge and experience is much higher. (Also, they must obtain local certifications and follow strict regulations.) If you wish to sell your cheese, we suggest you start by making simple cheeses, do as much reading as you can and visit cheese makers in your area.
3. I live in a country with limited refrigeration. Can I make cheese?
Of course. Cheese has been made for centuries in every
corner of the globe. If you have limited refrigeration, we would
suggest you stick with some of the fresh cheeses and, most specifically,
the Mediterranean or Central and South American style cheeses. They
depend on high acid and/or salt for their preservation and they are
consumed quickly as fresh cheese. Examples are Mozzarella, Feta, Queso
Fresco, Queso Blanco, etc.
4. Many of the recipes have the same ingredients in them. What makes the cheeses different?
At first glance, it may seem that different cheeses
are made the same way. However, the differences in the cheeses are due
to very slight variations in the process. Cheddar and Colby, for
example, are very similar as they start out. However, in the Colby,
there is a step where water is added to the curds, causing it to be a
cheese with more moisture than Cheddar.
Other factors which determine the outcome of the
cheese include the amount of culture, the ripening time , the amount of
rennet, the size of the cut curds, the rate time at and which the milk
is heated, the length of time stirred, and the way the whey is removed.
Minor changes in any of these areas can have a dramatic affect on the
5. I live at a high altitude. Will I have to adjust the recipes?
No. Since we are not reaching boiling temperatures, no adjustments are needed.
6. How much cheese can I expect to get from one gallon of milk?
Your yield will be approximately one pound per gallon
for the hard cheeses and two pounds per gallon for the soft cheeses. The
amount of butterfat in the milk will affect this. Sheep’s milk for
example, is 9% butterfat, so the yield is much higher.
7. Can I double or triple your recipes?
Yes. You should be able to increase amounts of culture
and rennet proportionately. The times and temperatures should be close
to what the recipes call for. Brining time is simply a matter of scale -
increase proportionate to cheese volume. (As in life, nothing works
perfectly, so you may need to tweak the recipes a bit. We recommend
keeping good notes.)
8. Can I make cheese with beer & wine in it?
Beer or wine is often used:
1. in washing curds - as in Gouda or
Colby cheese. Each curd will take on the color of the wine or beer, as
in the stout and porter washed cheeses.
2. in washing the rinds with beer.
3. in making Tomme au Marc where the final cheese is stored in the skins and seeds from wine pressing.
9. Can I make smoked cheeses?
Yes. There is a lot of information about this online and in our blog articles (for example: Smoking Your Cheese).
Always do a cold smoke when smoking your cheeses. The smoke is usually
generated in a separate chamber and then cooled before entering a box
with the cheese in it. On the industrial level, the cheese is smoked at
40-50F. At home, it must be kept below 84F, or the butterfat melts and
For a quick fix, some folks add liquid smoke to the
milk when making our 30 Minute Mozzarella. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons per
gallon right after adding the citric acid. We don’t recommend doing this
with any other cheeses.
10. Can I make whey protein from liquid whey?
Unfortunately, this would be a wasted effort. Even
larger cheese makers cannot justify the energy needed to dehydrate the
whey. Primarily, it is done by large operations that consolidate whey
from many large plants. (We have a blog article with better ways to use
Using Leftover Whey)
1. Are any of your products Kosher?
We are dedicated to providing Kosher products whenever
possible. Unfortunately, there are not too many available to us.
However, all of our
large culture packs are Kosher as well as most of our mold powders. Our liquid vegetable rennet was Kosher originally, but it was re-packaged without supervision.
2. Which of your products are for goats and which are for cows?
All of the cultures and supplies we sell can be used
with goat’s, sheep’s, or cow’s milk. The same is true for our recipes.
Some cheeses are traditionally made with goat’s milk, so we have put
them in a separate section of our book (p. 181,
Home Cheese Making). (There is a good article about using sheep's milk at our blog.)
3. Can your products be shipped overseas (2 or 3 weeks to a hot climate)?
Yes. We have been shipping to all parts of the world for over 30 years. We have tested our cultures and rennet by storing them at room temperature for up to two months and they are fine. Two or three weeks in a warmer climate is comparable to this, and they will survive. However, if you are shipping to a very hot climate, it is always safest to pay extra for faster shipping.
4. Is there anything perishable in the Starter Special?
No. The Mozzarella Kit has ingredients with a very
long shelf life. The rennet is in tablet form and will last at room
temperature for up to a year. If you put the tablets in the freezer,
they will last up to 5 years.
5. I would like to order the Goat Cheese Kit, but I am a vegetarian. Can you switch rennets for me?
Yes. We will be happy to switch the rennet in the Goat Cheese Kit to liquid vegetable rennet. Just remember to use half the amount of rennet called for in the recipes because the vegetable rennet is double-strength.
6. I purchased my kit from a local store, where it wasn’t being kept refrigerated. Are the cultures still good?
Our 30 Minute Mozzarella Kit can be stored for long periods at room temperature with no ill effects. Our other kits will survive up to 2 months at room temperature. We try to explain to our wholesale customers that the kits with the live cultures need to be refrigerated. Most shops keep them cold and replace them as they sell off the shelves. We recommend asking the store what their policy is.
7. I have noticed some differences between the recipes in my kit and the recipes in your book.
Yes, there are variations in the recipes between our book, our pamphlets and our website. This is something we have to live with since there is so much variation in the quality of milk, the ingredients and the processes of producing similar cheeses. (These are not recipes as in baking.)
Think of this as going to several cheese makers and seeing how differently they all make similar styles of cheese. In the end, you will still get the same delicious product.
The milk you see on your store shelves is quite variable and different milks require slight changes in process. Recently, due to what the milk processors are doing to the milk (high temperature heating), we have added additional steps and tips to some of our recipes. Since we cannot reprint the booklets that often, it is important to check with the website recipes for the latest information.
8. Can I make cheese without salt? If not, why do I have to use flake salt?
Our 30 Minute Mozzarella and Ricki’s Whole Milk Ricotta are two cheeses that do not require salt. All of the soft cheeses may be made without salt, also. Salt is added to these simply for flavor.
The hard cheeses and mold-ripened cheeses do require salt. Salt is used in cheese making, not just for flavor, but to slow the bacteria down and prevent overly acidic cheeses. Most cheeses finish with about 1-1.5% salt by weight.
You may use any salt you wish, but be sure to get one where the only ingredient is salt. (Iodized salt will interfere with any bacterial ripening, so we suggest using one that is non-iodized.) Most canning salts qualify. For brines, any non-iodized salt will do.
The difference between our flake salt and any canning salt is the larger crystal size. This ensures that when dry salting,
the salt doesn’t dissolve too rapidly.
9. Can I use the cheesecloth they sell at the grocery store?
No, do not buy the open weave cloth in a grocery store. These cloths are not woven tight enough and after all that good work you have put into your cheese making, it would be a shame to lose it through the loose weave of commercial cheese cloth.
We make sure that all of our cloths for draining cheese are finely woven and will protect your curds from going down the drain. Our cheesecloth is used for lining molds and for draining curds during hard cheese making. Our butter muslin is used for draining soft cheese curds.
10. Why can’t I use chlorinated water when diluting rennet?
Chlorinated water will stop the enzyme action of the
rennet. If you don’t know whether or not your tap water is chlorinated,
call your local water department. If it is chlorinated, you may choose
to buy distilled water or spring water, or you may filter your tap
water. (Most filters remove 97% of the chlorine from your water, which
is enough for cheese making.)
11. How do I calibrate my thermometer?
It is a simple matter to check your thermometer and
readjust it. Underneath the head is a nut which can be held with a
wrench while you turn the head. This will move the dial.
You can use a medical thermometer as a gauge to check
your thermometer. Target a temperature of 90F by bringing a container of
water (tap is fine) to this temperature and using this as a comparison
to check the cheese making thermometer. If it is a few degrees off, just
turn the little nut under the dial to read what the medical thermometer
reads. It’s a good idea to do this often (we calibrate ours every month
1. How do I sanitize my equipment?
When making cheese, we are using specific bacterial cultures to ripen our milk. We want to avoid contamination of this milk by unwanted bacteria so that the good bacteria we have chosen can do its job.
Surface areas - We recommend using a food grade sanitizer. Before you begin to make cheese, wipe down your counters with this solution.
Utensils - Sterilize your utensils in boiling water for 10 minutes (or run them through the dishwasher on the hottest cycle).
Pots & pans - The residue on your pots is called milk stone, which builds up over time. The best way to find a cleaner for this is to do a search for milk stone remover online. Also, if you have an agricultural store nearby, ask them for an acid based detergent for dairy use. Normally, alkaline based dairy cleaners are used to remove fat and proteins but the calcium deposits of milk stone need an acid cleaner. Most dairies use the alkaline cleaner every day and the acid cleaner once a week.
Cheesecloth – Before first using, it is best to hand wash your cheesecloth in cold water with a neutral detergent to get out all the sizing and process debris. Always rinse your cheesecloth or butter muslin in cold water immediately after removing your curds/cheese. This will prevent the milk proteins from bonding to your cloth. After you have rinsed in cold water, you may proceed to hand or machine wash your cloth in warm/hot water with a neutral detergent.
CONTROLLING THE TEMPERATURE
1. How do I maintain my milk at the appropriate temperature for long periods of time?
The kitchen sink is the best choice for this. The easiest way to keep a pot or vat of milk up to temperature is to put it into a sink full of hot water. As the milk begins to warm to target temperature and the bath begins to cool, drain some water from the sink and add some more boiling water. When starting the process, you want the water outside the pot to be about 10-15F hotter than your target milk temperature when starting the process. As you get within 7-8 degrees of your target, reduce this more. Always keep the final bath 2-3 degrees above the milk temperature.
2. How do I raise the temperature of my milk 2 degrees every 5 minutes?
Temperature control can be a bit of a trick to work out in the beginning. To increase the temperature slowly, add some boiling water to the water bath so that it stays about 5-10 degrees warmer than the milk temperature. Fortunately, this slow heating is only for the first 10-15 minutes. Once the curds have released a good deal of whey, you can heat much faster.
TESTING FOR CLEAN BREAK
When you poke your finger into the curd at a 45 degree angle and the curd breaks neatly around your finger, the curd is ready to be cut.
1. What do I do if the curd isn't ready when I test it?
Wait 5 minutes and try again.
2. Do I have to cut the curd when it's ready or can I let it set longer while I do something else?
Cut it when it's ready or it will continue to firm up and will not drain properly.
CUTTING THE CURDS
This is hard to describe, so here's a page from our book, Home Cheese Making:
1. What can I use to cut my curds?
You may use a regular long knife, but it might scratch your pot. We sell a curd knife for this purpose.
2. What is the reason for cutting the curds?
It increases the surface area from which the curd can drain its whey. The size of the cut determines how fast and how much the curds will drain. Some recipes call for cutting 1/2" cubes, some for 3/4" and some for 1/4."
You don't ever have to measure acidity if you don't want to. For thousands of years cheese was made without taking such measurements. However, in the past, folks were handed down their recipes from previous generations and the same cheeses were made year after year. Today, it's a little harder to know what's going on with your milk.
1. Why do I need to measure acidity?
The cheese making process is largely a matter of acid development - measuring the initial acid to make sure the milk has not developed too much acidity and then monitoring the rate of acid development during the cheese making process. Most cheeses have a target acid development profile that defines the style. Hence, acid monitoring during the process is a very good idea. This can be done as Titratable Acidity (TA%) or pH.
Home cheese makers do best to measure pH because it yields results that are consistent from batch to batch. For further information, see How To: Acid Testing and our blog article, Using a pH Tester. In our advanced workshops, we cover this extensively. Also, American Farmstead Cheese by Paul Kindstedt will give you greater insight into acid and pH measurements for different cheeses.
2. What is the best way to test pH?
In our book we mention pH papers, but since it was last printed, we have stopped selling them. They became very expensive and our customers had marginal results with them. They are only accurate within a range, and most folks prefer more exact measurements.
We now sell three products for acid testing: the Acid Testing Kit, the Waterproof pH Tester (the red one at right) and the Waterproof pH Meter (the white one at left).