Cheese Making Fundementals

colleciton of cheeses

The basic steps in cheese making are listed here. While some cheese styles will use all of the steps, others may use only a few. Within each step there will be variations in ingredients, time and temperature depending on the cheese being made.

• Pasteurize: The sterilizing of dairy milk by indirectly heating to 161°F

• Ripening: The acidification of milk by means of a biological process that uses a starter culture

• Renneting: The addition of an enzyme called rennet which causes coagulation of milk protein into cheese curd

• Cutting: The uniform breaking up of a curd mass done to facilitate the release of whey which is trapped in the mass

• Cooking: The heating of cut curd which forces moisture out of the curd and causes it to firm up

• Draining: The removal of whey by means of gravity usually done by hanging the cheese in a cheesecloth bag

• Salting: The addition of specialty grade pure salt to season, aid in drying and help preserve the cheese

• Pressing: The removal of whey by means of regulated pressure using a mechanical cheese press

• Drying: The air drying of the cheese which allows the protective rind to develop

• Waxing: The air tight sealing of a cheese in melted wax to protect the cheese during aging

• Aging: The resting period during which the character and flavor of the cheese develop


We have found that pasteurizing your milk regardless of its source will produce a better cheese. The use of indirect heat via a double boiler will prevent the milk from scolding. Stir frequently until the temperature of the milk reaches 161°F. Once the milk has reached 161°F it must be cooled to the ripening temperature required by the recipe. This is usually between 85 and 95°F. Place the pasteurized milk into a sink of warm water and stir gently until the desired temperature is reached. Add hot or cold water to the sink as need to adjust the temperature.


Cheese starter culture is added to the milk and allowed to acidify the milk for a period of about 45 minutes or according to the recipe. This period is referred to as ‘ripening the milk’. Add the starter culture and gently stir with a ladle by slowly pumping the milk up and down. Be careful not to pump a lot of air into the milk. It will take about 2 minutes of gentle stirring to mix the starter. During the ripening stage the bacteria in the starter culture will consume the lactose (milk sugar) in the warm milk and produce lactic acid. The lactic acid will then begin the separation of curds and whey. To maintain the proper temperature during ripening you can add hot water to the sink.


Using calcium chloride is optional. If you are using store bought milk you may want to add calcium chloride to the milk prior to the next step. Pasteurized milk has altered protein and if calcium chloride is not added to the milk a poor quality curd will develop.


Cheese rennet is added to the ripened milk in order to coagulate (solidify) the milk protein into a solid curd. Rennet is always diluted in cool water before adding to the milk. When adding rennet to the milk, stir gently in up and down motions for one minute. Do not stir vigorously.


The curd is ready to cut when it shows a clean break. Test for the clean break by inserting your thermometer into the mass at an angle then lifting it. The curd should separate and leave an open scar on the surface. If the curd takes longer than 45 minutes to show a clean break, you should add slightly more rennet the next time you make your recipe. Once the rennet has coagulated the milk into a solid white curd, it is ready to cut.

The curd is cut to increase the surface area of the curd and this increases the movement of whey out of the curd. Cut the curd with a long bladed stainless steel knife which reaches easily to the bottom of the pot. Slice the curd from left to right into ½ inch slices as if cutting a cake. Turn the pot 90° and once again cut the curd from left to right in ½ inch slices. Now take a stainless steel ladle and sink it ½ inch into the pot and move across the pot at that level. Sink the ladle another ½ inch and repeat the process. Keep doing this until you are at the bottom of the pot. Obviously this is not an exact science so now you can use your ladle and knife and gently cut up any oversized pieces.

After cutting the curd into equal sized pieces, it’s ready for cooking. The curd and whey are warmed by placing the pot in hot water and increasing the temperature of the curd according to the recipe. The curd should be heated gradually, no more than 2°F every five minutes. To insure even heating and prevent matting together, the curd should be stirred frequently and gently. If the curd is heating too rapidly simply take the pot out of the water for a while.


After reaching the proper firmness, the curds and whey are poured into a colander lined with cheesecloth. The colander should rest in a sink or large container to permit the collection of the whey. The curds are properly firmed when they have shrunk in size, are quite shiny and are firm to the touch and when pressed between thumb and forefinger. They no longer split open with soft curd coming from the interior.

After sufficient draining, the curds are placed in a bowl and one tablespoon of salt is added per each gallon of milk used. A coarse flaked salt is better than fine table salt and should be sprinkled on the curds and then gently mixed in. Salting both enhances the cheeses flavor and aids in draining whey from the curd and in the final preservation of the cheese. For people on a salt free diet, however, the addition of salt can be omitted and the cheese will still have a fine flavor. At this stage you can also add dried herbs if you like such as caraway seeds, basil or dried sage (as in sage cheddar).


Making hard cheese requires the use of mechanically applied pressure to compress the curd. You may think that the cheese press is used to remove whey from the curd but, most of the free whey must be drained off prior to pressing. The press is used to cause the curd to mat together; this process is called ‘knitting’. Cheese curds have a thin membrane of fat on their surface that prevents the curds from joining together on their own. As pressure is applied, the individual curds are squeezed causing the fat membrane to open and expose the interior of the curd. When the exposed curds touch each other they bond together creating a single block of cheese.

When the time comes to press your cheese you will first line the mold with an 18" square piece of sterile cheesecloth. Prepare the cloth by placing it in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove the cloth with tongs or a spoon and rinse it with cold water. It should then be wrung out and snapped dry. The curd is then placed into the lined mold and the excess cloth is folded over top of the curd. Avoid bunching up the cloth or the cheese will have an irregular surface which allows for the formation of surface mold. The cloth lining will hold the cheese curd together as it is removed from the mold and turned over.

As you load curd into the mold, be aware that some whey will begin draining so place the mold where the whey will not run out on the counter or floor. The whey that is pressed from the cheese must have a place to collect. The whey catch is placed under the press mold for this purpose. A catch can be any vessel which is made from non reactive materials such as food grade plastic or stainless steel. A more complex whey catch can include a drain spout which removes the whey from around the cheese into a collection vessel. Since there are holes in the bottom of the press mold, you will need to set the mold on sticks or a mat in order to keep it out of the whey. Please note that whey collected from your cheese press should be discarded.

The follower (sometimes called a lid) is placed flat side down on top of the wrapped curds. Slight adjustments may be necessary to assure that the curd is level and the surface is flat. You should press down lightly on the follower to make sure that everything is stable.

The amount of pressure and time of pressing will depend on the type of cheese being made. Most recipes will start the pressing with a few pounds of pressure and then increase the weight over time. It is also important to note that the cheese must be turned over during the pressing process. This provides for an even pressing and even distribution of moisture remaining in the cheese.

The simplest of all weight systems is water. For the needs of the home cheese maker it is fine to say that a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. Therefore a pint (16 ounces) equals one pound. This method works fine for pressures up to 8 pounds or 1 gallon of water, providing that the vessel containing the water can be balanced safely.

A more workable weight system can be found at a local garage sale or flea market. A collection of weights used for body building will provide all that you need for accurate pressing. Additional weights can be added to the set as necessary. This method lowers the overall height on the assembled press, which makes the whole press more stable.


After pressing, remove the cheese and place it on a clean surface to air dry. The cheese should be turned twice each day until the surface is dry. It can take 1-3 days for a cheese to dry. Be sure to keep the cheese away from any flies that may be in the kitchen during the summer by covering the cheese loosely with clean cheesecloth.


Cheese wax gives the best results for waxing although paraffin may be used if cheese wax is not available. The wax must be melted in a double boiler to reduce the danger of fire. With a small real bristled paint brush used exclusively for this purpose, paint on the wax to cover the cheese completely.

It is a good idea to take a small piece of paper and write down the type of cheese, the date and any other useful information and then wax the piece of paper right onto the cheese. This will give you an accurate record of what each waxed cheese is and when it was produced.


Once waxed, the cheese should be aged at a temperature between 40°F and 60°F. Turn the cheese over daily or moisture will accumulate on the bottom of the cheese. If using raw milk (milk not pasteurized) age the cheese for at least 60 days at a temperature above 35°F and preferably close to 50°F.

homemade cheese tray

Cheese Making

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