About Cheese Making

drying cheese wheels

Simply put, cheese making is the process of removing water from dairy milk. The first characteristic of a cheese is based on how much water is removed. Soft cheeses like cream cheese contain more water than a hard cheese like cheddar. Very dry cheeses like parmesan contain all most no water.

Milk is mostly water; cow’s milk for example, contains over 87% water by weight. What remains are the components of cheese, fat, protein, lactose and minerals. The cheese maker begins removing water from milk in number of ways.

The simplest method is to add an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar directly to the milk. A second method uses bacteria to create an acid in the milk. This is the preferred method because the bacterium also provides flavor and character to the finished product. In both methods, the acid causes the milk protein to coagulate into curd which is the solid protein of milk.

The basic ingredients for making cheese are milk, starter culture and or natural acids, and rennet.

The Composition of Milk

• Fat: 3.5%

• Protein: 3.5%

• Lactose: 4.9%

• Minerals: 0.7%

• Water: 87.4%

Cheese can be made from any dairy animal milk. Fresh raw milk from cows or goats, store bought milk and specialty milks from health food stores. One rule of thumb regardless of the source of your milk is the fresher the better. When purchasing milk from the store, be sure to check the freshness date. Don't be afraid to ask your grocer for milk from their latest delivery. Milk should always be kept refrigerated until ready for use.

MILK PROS & CONS

• RAW COW: Preferred for making butter, hard and Italian cheeses. It’s regulated in many states and not readily available.

• RAW GOAT: Preferred for feta, and goat's cheese, works in most cheese recipes. Not readily available.

• WHOLE PROCESSED: Available everywhere, works well in all cheese recipes. Homogenized and may require adjustment with calcium chloride.

• LOW FAT PROCESSED: Produces high quality low fat cheese, especially when used in cream and soft cheese recipes. Homogenized and may require adjustment with calcium chloride. It will yield a drier more crumbly curd of lesser weight.

• FAT FREE SKIM MILK: Produces quality no fat cheese, especially when used in cream and soft cheese recipes. Excellent when combined with heavy cream to recreate raw milk consistency. Homogenized and may require adjustment with calcium chloride. It will yield a drier more crumbly curd of lesser weight.

• HEAVY CREAM: Used to make butter and adjust the cream content of skim milk for producing hard cheese from store bought milk.

• LIGHT CREAM: Used to make desert cheeses like Mascarpone.

Using Store Bought Milk

Store bought milk is homogenized, which means that the cream particles (butter fat) have been mechanically broken up into microscopic particles. This is done to prevent the cream from separating from the milk. Homogenizing milk also alters the protein. Unless the cheese maker compensates for this the milk will not make a satisfactory curd for hard cheese. When making cottage cheese or any hard cheeses with store bought milk you must prepare a special mixture. The basic recipe is 1 part heavy cream to 7 parts skim milk. All of the recipes given here are formulated to use store bought milk and the instructions for preparing this mixture are given in each recipe when necessary.

Calcium Chloride (optional)

Another step used to compensate for the processing of store bought milk is the addition of calcium chloride prior to adding rennet to the cheese mixture. The addition of calcium chloride will help restore the altered milk protein and aid in the development of a quality curd. Specific instructions for using calcium chloride are given with each recipe.

Pasteurization

All milk, regardless of its source will contain bacteria. Pasteurizing is a simple process which will kill any bacteria which may be in the milk. We have found that pasteurizing any milk, including store bought, will improve the quality of the cheese. To pasteurize your milk simply place the milk in a double boiler and heat the milk to 161oF. Stirring often to avoid scorching. Once you have reached 161oF place the pot of milk into a sink of cold water and cool the milk to your cheese making temperature. Complete details on pasteurizing are given in the step-by-step instructions later in this document.

Starter Cultures

The acidification of milk in cheese making by means of bacteria is called ripening. A variety of bacteria cultures are available for making specific cheese types. These bacteria, commonly called starters, are added to the milk after pasteurization and at specific temperatures. They are allowed to work for specific time periods depending on the type of cheese. During this period the bacteria consumes the lactose which is milk sugar. The biological process is the same as the fermentation of beer or wine. As the bacteria eat, they produce lactic acid which in turn causes the milk protein to develop into curd. Other byproducts of this ripening stage provide flavor compounds which enhance the character of the finished cheese.

• MESOPHILIC: (lactococcus lactis ssp cremoris) For fresh and hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, Feta or Chevre.

• THERMOPHILIC: (streptococcus thermophilus) For fresh cheeses such as camembert, gouda, blue, baby swiss and others where a buttery flavor and eye formation is desired.

• HELVETIC: (lactobacillus Helveticus) For Italian cheeses like parmesan, romano, provolone and mozzarella.

These cheese starter cultures are available in two forms. They are defined as culturable and direct-to-vat. Culturable starters are similar to sourdough starters in that they are prepared in advanced and preserved for future use. Direct-to-vat cultures are much more convenient for the home cheese maker. No preparation of the culture is required. These freeze dried cultures are added directly to the milk in the same way you would use bread yeast.

Rennet

Rennet is an enzyme which acts on protein and causes it to coagulate. There are two sources of rennet enzyme. Animal rennet is an enzyme which is extracted from the fourth stomach of calves. Vegetable based rennet contains no animal products and has the same coagulating ability as animal rennet when used in milk that has been ripened (acidified) by a cheese starter bacterium. This rennet is available in tablet and liquid form. Rennet must be diluted with distilled water prior to adding to milk. Rennet must be refrigerated.

NOTE: If your recipe calls for rennet tablets use this conversion. ½ rennet tablet = 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet.

homemade cheese tray

Cheese Making

Making Cheese is Easy When You Use Our Supplies and Methods.