Fresh milk from a healthy animal is about as good as it gets. It contains its own system of cultures and enzymes, which make it well suited for the newly born and young, as well as for cheese making.
We have posted a list of
good milks submitted by our readers. If you have one that you would like added, please send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is Milk?
Cow's milk is 88% water, 5% lactose (milk sugar), 3.5-5% protein and 3-5% fat (which supplies flavor and texture in cheese). The rest is composed of minerals and enzymes.
Goat's milk is similar to cow's milk, except that the fat globules are smaller and more easily digested. Also, it has no carotene, so it produces a whiter cheese.
Sheep's milk has twice the solids as cow's milk, so the cheese yield is higher. The butterfat content of sheep's milk is 9%.
The balance of all the components of milk is influenced by the breed of the animal, the stages of lactation, the geographical location, environmental conditions and the seasons. All of these factors affect the final outcome of your cheese. For more information about the content of milk, see Chapter 1 in our book,
Home Cheese Making.
How are the different breeds of cows and goats a factor in cheese making?
Any milk from any breed will work nicely for making any cheese. Generally speaking, however, there are certain breeds of cows and goats that are well suited for specific types of cheeses. The choice is based on the size and amount of butterfat globules in the milk they produce.
- Cow's milk - Jersey and Guernsey milk has the largest fat globules. It is perfectly suited for the soft and semi-soft cheeses. Ayrshire milk has the smallest fat globules, so it is preferred for the sharp Italian cheeses and long aged Cheddars. Holstein milk is the standard, so it is used across the board.
- Goat's milk - Saanen milk is the standard. Nubian milk has larger fat globules, so it is often used for the soft and semi-soft cheeses. Toggenburg milk has smaller globules, so it is traditionally used in sharper, aged cheeses.
What happens to milk when it leaves the udder?
First, as the milk leaves its healthy environment, it enters a much harsher environment of possible contamination. It is here that the milk producer has the ability to control the quality of milk by preparing and keeping a clean milking area, and practicing a proper sanitation routine.
Next, in commercial milking, the milk moves through the tubes, pipes, and pumps into the refrigerated tanks, where more physical changes begin to take place:
As the milk is transported and then cold stored again, the above problems begin to accelerate. Since the lactose in milk is a good food supply for many types of microbes, all of the above conditions translate into a deteriorating milk quality. So, to safely preserve this milk for the public, something has to be done...
- During handling, fat globules can be damaged, releasing enzymes that may cause problems in ripening.
- During cold storage, some of the calcium can go into solution, resulting in weakened curds.
- Also, during cold storage, undesirable bacteria that grow well at these cold temperatures can increase to very large populations.
What is being done to "protect" milk from harmful bacteria?
In 1857, Louis Pasteur realized that heat treatment would destroy unwanted microbes. Shortly after this, the pasteurization of milk began in Europe and America. By 1940, this process had become well established as dairy herds became larger, milk traveled farther, and larger milk processing plants and cheese factories held milk longer.
Fresh milk naturally contains healthy bacteria which inhibit the growth of undesirable and dangerous organisms. Pasteurization removes many of these friendly bacteria along with the bad. Without these friendly bacteria, pasteurized milk is actually more susceptible to contamination. Currently, there are several different approaches to pasteurizing milk:
Thermization, or Heat Treatment is a low temperature (145F) and short time (15 seconds) pasteurization that has the lowest impact on natural bacteria and enzymes in milk and is commonly practiced in Europe.
Lately, dairies have been extending the pasteurization temperatures above 172F. This destabilizes the whey proteins, which, in turn, keeps the calcium from bonding and making a good curd. (If your curd forms as a loose mass or something looking like Ricotta, your milk source has probably been heated above 172F.)
Pasteurization can take one of two forms:
Low Temperature (145F) Long Time (30 min.) referred to as vat or batch pasteurization.
High Temperature (162F) Short Time (15 sec.) referred to as HTST (high temp short time).
Ultra-Pasteurization (UP) is a range of milk processing temperatures from 191-212F, for varying times. According to Food and Drugs 21 CFR131.110e(1)ii, all milk fitting this definition must be labeled as ultra-pasteurized.
However, the law states that this label need only be 1/2 the size and gives no designation as to where it should be on the package. So, 'buyer beware' here. We have had many customers write in who have purchased what they thought was regular whole milk to get home and discover a tiny UP on the package.
We do not recommend using UP milk to make cheese (especially Mozzarella). If you would like to see the visual difference in how UP and UHT milks work (compared to good milk) in the cheese making process
Ultra High Temperature Sterilization (UHT) is milk that has been heated to (280F) for a short time (2 seconds). It is basically devoid of any bacteria whatsoever. The shelf life of this milk is 60 days, compared with the 18 days of lower temperature pasteurization.
Why is milk being over-heated?
The problem is the prevalence of certain diseases in our current herds. The dairies keep increasing the temperatures in hopes that it will destroy the problem. Unfortunately, current research indicates that this is not the case. The move to higher temperatures has only created more problems. The real solution is proper herd management, which is a step the big dairies do not seem to want to take.
Also, as the times change and our many diversified dairies dwindle to a few mega producers, milk needs to be held for longer periods and shipped over longer distances. Ultra-pasteurization increases the shelf life, thereby increasing the profitability of the milk.
What can I do?
Talk to your store manager and find out how your milk is being pasteurized. When you find a brand of milk that is not being overheated, let us know and we will add it to our List of Good Milks.
My recipe calls for light cream but I cannot seem to find any. Can I use half and half or heavy cream instead?
Yes. Below is a list of different creams and their fat content. You can use other creams in place of light cream but the addition will need to be modified based on the fat content of the particular cream you are using. For example, half and half has 1/2 the fat content of light cream, so you would need to use 2x as much half in half as light cream in your recipe.
Type of Cream and Fat %
Heavy Whipping Cream 36-40%
- Light Whipping Cream 30-36%
- Light or Coffee Cream 18-30%
- Single Cream 20%
- Half and Half 10.5% (10-18%)
- Sour Cream 18-20%
- Whole Pasteurized Milk 3.25%
Raw milk is milk that comes straight from the animal. For cheese makers, the most desirable raw milk comes from grass-fed animals. For many reasons, including the health of the animals and the effects on the environment, we recommend grass feeding.
There is a great deal of information on the web about the pros and cons of raw milk. "
The Raw Milk Revolution" tells the story of the current controversy.
One website with good information is, www.raw-milk-facts.com.
Can I use raw milk to make my cheese?
Yes. However, you need to be 110% sure of the milk quality. The milk needs to come from tested animals and it needs to have been kept scrupulously clean. If you are not absolutely sure about it, and you decide to pasteurize it, follow our directions in the next section. (Pasteurized/Homogenized Milk)
All of our recipes may be made with raw milk. Follow the directions, as given. Once you have experience with your recipe and you want to make adjustments, you may be able to use 10-20% less rennet and you may be able to lower the temperatures 3-5 degrees.
When making cheese with raw milk, it is important to top-stir it for several extra seconds when adding rennet. This mixes any butterfat that has risen to the surface back into the body of the milk. To top-stir, simply stir the top inch of milk with the bottom of a slotted spoon or skimmer.
Can I sell my raw milk cheese legally?
Raw milk cheeses sold in the US must be aged over 60 days and above 34F. You will need to check with your local and state agencies to determine what you need to do to be able to sell your raw milk cheeses.
How soon after I milk can I use it for making cheese?
After milking, hold the milk for 2-3 hours before making cheese. After that, sooner is better. It is best to use milk within at least 36-48 hours of milking. Traditionally, it was milked and held overnight to allow natural cultures to develop. It was then mixed with the fresh morning's milk, which was still warm.
I have about 2 gallons of raw milk, one of which is whole, the other skim, left over from butter making. All of it has soured to a degree, some more than others. I want to make cheese with it, but cannot decide which recipe would suit this milk. It is sour, so it has that sharp taste.
Raw milk that has been held long enough to sour (I would think these are more that 3 days old) will have other things that have changed. The proteins will have begun to deteriorate somewhat and the calcium for forming curds is much depleted. Neither of these conditions will lead to a high quality cheese. The cheese will be less firm and more difficult to remove moisture from.
Your milk does sound like it has already gone pretty far into the acid development. You are best off making cottage cheese from this.
How do I skim raw milk?
With cow's milk, we suggest letting the cream float to the top overnight and then removing it for partially skimmed milk. Goat's milk is naturally homogenized, so using a separator is generally necessary.
Can I freeze my raw milk?
We do not recommend freezing cow's milk. The components of the milk break apart when the milk is thawed. However, if necessary, goat's and sheep's milk may be frozen for up to 30 days before cheese making. Note: Always thaw frozen milk in the refrigerator.
If my cow or goat has taken antibiotics, how long must I wait before using its milk for cheese making?
We recommend waiting 3 full days after antibiotics or any other medicine has been administered because they will impede the activity of the culture.
Do I need to add calcium chloride to raw milk?
No. It is usually not necessary because the calcium molecules have not been affected by pasteurization and homogenization. However, many cheese makers use calcium chloride to compensate for seasonal variations in the composition of their milk.
We recommend trying it if your recipe calls for it specifically or if you have problems with weak curds. If you decide to add calcium chloride, use 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of milk. Dilute it in 1 cup of cool, non-chlorinated water and add it when you begin heating your milk. Then, after adding your rennet, allow the milk to set 3-5 minutes longer than usual before cutting your curd. (We do not recommend adding calcium chloride to your milk when making Mozzarella. It may prevent your curds from stretching in the final step.)
Pasteurization consists of heating your milk to a specified temperature and then cooling it rapidly. We recommend that you heat it to 145F and hold it there for 30 minutes. If you are using it right away to make cheese, cool your milk as quickly as possible to your cheese making temperature. If you are not using it right away for cheese making, cool it as quickly as possible to 40F and refrigerate.
Homogenization breaks up the butterfat into small globules so they will always stay integrated with the rest of the milk, instead of rising to the top. It slightly damages the milk, but the difference is negligible. For more info at our blog about homogenization click here
Can I make cheese from pasteurized/homogenized milk?
All of our recipes work with most store bought milks. (It has always been our mission to make cheese making accessible to everyone.) You may use whole, skim or any percent of milk in our recipes. Whole milk gives a higher yield and tastes best because of the butterfat it contains, whereas skim milk gives you a drier cheese and a lower yield.
What should I look for when buying my milk?
Whenever possible, look for a local brand. This is because long, cold storage and transportation is problematic for milk. The closer the milk is to the source (cows, goats, etc.) the better for cheese making.
Another factor is the heat at which the milk has been pasteurized. If the milk clearly states that it is ultra-pasteurized (UP), do not purchase it. It has basically been stripped of friendly bacteria. More importantly, the alteration of the proteins is so severe that the milk will not form a proper curd. (See the
General Questions section above and the Ultra-Pasteurized section below.)
Unfortunately, even if your milk is not labeled UP, it may have been heated to just short of ultra-pasteurization. When milk has been pasteurized at a high temperature (anything over 172F), it is problematic for cheese making. The only way to know how high a processor has heated their milk is to call them. We encourage you to do this because we believe it will let the large processing plants know where we stand. Hopefully, you will find a good brand of milk at our list of
Can I use skim milk to make cheese?
Yes, skim milk may be used in all our recipes. Follow the recipe, as given. However, your cheese will be drier, your yield will be lower and there will be less flavor. (Butterfat is an important flavor and texture component of cheese. In whole milk, the butterfat (cream) is usually 3.5-4%.)
If you have to use milk with little or no butterfat, you can usually add herbs or spices to your cheese to make it taste better. Also, there are some cheeses, like Parmesan, that are traditionally made with partially skimmed milk.
Do I need to add calcium chloride to my pasteurized/homogenized milk?
Pasteurizing and homogenizing milk disturbs the calcium balance in it. The result may be a slightly softer curd than you want when making cheese. If your curd is fine, you may choose not to add calcium chloride. Otherwise, it is probably a good idea.
Use the same amount of calcium chloride as the rennet that is needed in your recipe or 1/4 tsp. per gallon of milk. Dilute it in 1/4 cup of cool, non-chlorinated water and add it when you begin heating your milk. Then, after adding your rennet, allow the milk to set 3-5 minutes longer than usual before cutting your curd. (We do not recommend adding calcium chloride to your milk when making 30 Minute Mozzarella. It may prevent your curds from stretching in the final step.)
Ultra-pasteurized (UP) is milk that has been heated to temperature range of 191-212F, for varying times.
This temperature and time combination is lethal to bacteria, killing virtually all that would be beneficial in cheese making.
Milk processors are required by law to state on the label that the milk is ultra-pasteurized.
For more information about the UP process, see the
General Questions section above. We are keeping a list of good milks that our readers have submitted from their own experiences.
Why is milk ultra-pasteurized?
Profit. We believe that the main reason milk is ultra-pasteurized is to increase the shelf life (from 18 days at normal pasteurization to 60 days). This allows the dairies to transport it across the country and to keep it on the shelves longer.
The dairies claim that heating milk to high temperatures protects us from bacteria. This is not true. Studies have shown that when there is bad bacteria in the milk, much of it is not eliminated by high temperatures. To the extent that it does work, however, it is cheaper to overheat the milk, destroying both good and bad bacteria, than it would be to cull the herds.
What kind of cheese can I make if all I have is UP milk?
With some brands, you will be able to make the soft cheeses, including Fromage Blanc, Mascarpone, Fromagina, Crème Fraiche, Ricotta, buttermilk and yogurt. However, there will be no way to tell in advance if your brand of UP milk will work.
My milk is not labeled UP, but it seems to be. Why?
Many dairies are heating their milk beyond the normal 161F to just short of the UP limit. If you are experiencing a weak curd or other signs of high heat treatment, renew your efforts to find a good, local milk. Note: Anything over 172F can be problematic for making Mozzarella.
What about ultra-pasteurized cream?
Many of our recipes call for adding cream in small quantities. Because cream is mostly butterfat, when ultra-pasteurized (UP) cream is added to enhance the milk, it usually works. When adding cream to milk, it is best to first raise the temperature of the cream to 100F.
Goat's Milk & Sheep's Milk
In some states, it is hard to find fresh milk because regulations prohibit farm sales. The best place to begin searching is at your local farmer's market. Or, you might try putting a notice at a health food market or co-op that you are looking for fresh goat's or sheep's milk. Of course, we are always expanding our list of good milks.
Can I use goat's or sheep's milk in all your recipes?
Yes. After you milk, chill it immediately and use your milk within 3 days. The first time you try a recipe, we recommend following the directions as is. The taste will be different from cheese made with cow's milk.
After you have some experience with the cheese, you may find that you need 10-20% less rennet and that you may lower the ripening temperature in the recipe by 3-5 degrees.
With raw sheep's milk, you will need to make accommodations for the high butterfat content. Top-stir (stir the top 1/2" of the milk with the bottom of your skimmer for a few extra seconds) when you add your rennet.
Also, when cutting the curds, make larger cubes to avoid losing butterfat; use half the amount of salt called for and exert only light pressure when pressing. For more info at our blog about using sheep's milk -
Can I freeze my goat's milk and sheep's milk?
Yes, but it will not work as well as fresh milk for cheese making. You will find that the curd will be much more fragile. Be sure to thaw it at refrigerator temperature. You will have much better luck with frozen sheep's milk than with frozen goat's or cow's milk.
Is ultra-pasteurized goat's milk as bad as UP cow's milk?
Yes. It is just as damaged as any other ultra-pasteurized milk.
Do I need to add calcium chloride?
We recommend adding calcium chloride to your goat's and sheep's milk only if you are experiencing weak curd formation. If it is raw, we suggest adding 1/4 tsp. per gallon. If it is pasteurized, we suggest adding 1/2 tsp. per gallon. Dilute it in 1/4 cup of cool, non-chlorinated water and add it when you begin heating your milk. Then, after adding your rennet, allow the milk to set 3-5 minutes longer than usual before cutting your curd. (We do not recommend adding calcium chloride to your milk when making 30 Minute Mozzarella. It may prevent your curds from stretching in the final step.)
Dry Powdered Milk
There are two kinds of powdered milk – nonfat and whole. Both may be used in cheese making. However, we recommend using the whole dry milk only in yogurt and the soft cheeses. (If you use it for aged cheese, it may taste rancid.)
Whole dry milk has a shelf life of 6 months. Once opened, nonfat dry milk has a shelf life of one year at room temperature.
You may extend this shelf life by keeping your dry milk in the refrigerator or freezer.
Do I have to reconstitute my dry milk before making cheese?
Yes. To reconstitute your milk, follow the directions on the package. If it says to leave it overnight, be sure to do it or your milk may not be completely dissolved in the water.
Do I have to add cream to my nonfat dry milk?
Nonfat dry milk works best in cheese making when cream is added. Depending on your taste, it would be in the ratio of 8-16 oz cream to 2 gallons of milk. It does not matter whether you add half & half, light, heavy or whipping cream to your powdered milk. When adding cream to milk, it is best to first raise the temperature of the cream to 90-100F.)
Can I use the "low heat, spray-processed" dry milk I get at my local health food store
Yes. It needs to be dissolved in hot water and beaten with a whisk or an electric beater to get the lumps out. Blend 4 cups of powder with 15 cups of chlorine-free water. Let set for at least 6 hours. Add 1 cup heavy cream. Avoid the 'high heat processed powder' used by some bakers.)
Can I use powdered goat's milk or sheep's milk?
Yes. Many of our customers report that they are using powdered goat's milk successfully. However, be careful when buying it, because we have found that most of it is ultra-pasteurized. We do not know of a source for powdered sheep's milk. If you find one, please let us know and tell us about your experience with it.
Should I use calcium chloride with my dry milk?
Yes. We recommend using calcium chloride because powdered milk has been pasteurized and homogenized. We recommend using 1/2 tsp. per gallon of milk.
Dilute it in 1/4 cup of cool, non-chlorinated water and add it when you begin heating your milk. Then, after adding your rennet, allow the milk to set 3-5 minutes longer than usual before cutting your curd. (We do not recommend adding calcium chloride to your milk when making 30 Minute Mozzarella. It can prevent your curds from stretching in the final step.)
We entirely support the concept of organic milk. Unfortunately, our experience has been that organic milks at the supermarkets are usually ultra-pasteurized (see blog article - Organic Milk Often Comes From Big Dairy). This includes many national name brands.
If you are lucky enough to have a local source for organic milk, by all means, use it. If not, we are currently maintaining a list of good milks.
Where can I find organic milk that is not ultra-pasteurized?
There are many sources of organic milk online, some of which are not ultra-pasteurized. Before you spend a lot of money, however, you should know that the definition of 'organic milk,' is unclear. The New York Times recently noted that 'organic milk' essentially means "it comes from a cow whose milk production was not prompted by an artificial growth hormone, whose feed was not grown with pesticides and which had 'access to pasture,' a term so vague it could mean that a cow might spend most of its milk-producing life confined to a feed lot eating grain and not grass."
Consumer groups have expressed concern that the cows spend most of their time confined in cramped feed lots, with just enough "access to pastureland" to meet the letter of the law. The groups charge that many dairies fail to meet the law's intent. Pressure is growing on the USDA to more clearly spell out exactly how much access dairy cows should have to pasture grazing before their milk can be legally labeled as 'organic.'
Most of the 'organic' milks we have tried are pasteurized at temperatures of 172F and above. For more info about organic milk-
Unfortunately, we have yet to find a brand of lactose-free milk that is not ultra-pasteurized. If you have found one, please let us know and we will add it to our list of good milks.
If I have lactose-free milk that is not UP, can I make cheese?
With a lactose-free milk, that is not ultra-pasteurized, you will be able to make our 30 Minute Mozzarella and Ricotta. However, you will not be able to make other cheeses. The process of cheese making is based on the bacterial cultures converting the lactose in milk to lactic acid. This process drives the conversion of liquid milk to curds, which eventually becomes cheese. This conversion also causes the moisture (whey) to be released. Without lactose in milk there is no food to support the bacterial cultures.
How much lactose is there in cheese?
The good news for the lactose-intolerant is that there is much less lactose in cheese than in milk. A cup of cow's milk contains about 10-12 grams of lactose. An ounce of Swiss or Cheddar cheese contains less than one gram of lactose. Most of the lactose found in cheese is removed with the whey during the cheese making process. The rest is consumed by the culture in the first few weeks of aging.
Is there less lactose in cheese I make myself?
Yes. Soft cheeses and yogurt have more lactose in them than the aged cheeses, but when you make your own, there is less lactose than in store-bought. When you make cheese yourself, you use real cultures. These cultures consume a lot of the lactose. Also, there are no additional milk solids added to your own soft cheeses and yogurt, as there are in most commercial brands.
We have yet to find a brand of canned milk that has not been high heat treated.
We do not recommend ever using sour milk for making cheese. You don't know what bacteria, other than the healthy ones, may have taken over. We prefer to control the bacterial count by using cultures.
NON-DAIRY, SOY, NUT & RICE MILKS
It is possible to make gluten free, casein free yogurt and cheese using our cultures. In fact, we have a blog article with directions for making soy yogurt and soy cheese. We are always interested in posting your recipes for non-dairy "cheese," so if you have one, send it to Moosletter@cheesemaking.com. (Pictures are welcome, as well.)