Making cheese is a pretty easy and fun thing to do, although a bit time consuming. But, fresh made mozzarella is unbeatable so everyone should try it at least once. Making cheese involves removing water from milk. That's basically it. Milk breaks down as:

So, removing the water doesn't leave you with a whole heck of a lot, but what's left is good! The type of milk you use really depends on the cheese. Different milks tend to work better for different cheeses. Ideally, fresh milk that has not been homogenized should be used. You can use whole milk from the grocery store, but try to get the freshest lot they have, it makes a lot of difference. Also, keep in mind that store bought milk is homogenized (meaning the fat has been broken up to keep it from separating) which makes it less suitable for use in making cheese. To get around this, you'll want to buy skim milk and mix 1 part heavy cream to 7 parts skim milk. In addition you can add Calcium Chloride to the milk to help produce a better curd when using store bought milk.

Once you've got your milk, the next thing you will need is some bacteria. Yup, bacteria. Don't get all freaked out, not all bacteria are bad for you, and we have a symbiotic relationship with many organisms, so deal with it. What the bacteria do is basically eat up the lactose in the milk. This process is very similar to the fermenting of alcohol. The main reason you do this is because the bacteria produce an acid when eating lactose that in effect separates the curd (all that solids and goodies in the milk) from the whey (the water). In addition, the bacteria is responsible for giving each cheese its own distinct flavor, texture, and color. For home use, you'll want to buy the appropriate culture for the cheese you want to make in a freeze-dried form that is much like yeast.

Finally, you may also need some rennet, an enzyme that causes protein to coagulate, helping out the drying process and separation of the curd and whey. Rennet historically is found in the fourth stomach of a cow where it is used to aid in bovine digestion. There is also a form of rennet found in vegetables that can be used as well.

Needed Equipment

To make cheese you will need the proper tools. Here's a list of what you should have.

  • Stainless Steel or Enamel pot - at least 10 quarts. Do not use aluminum or other metals, the acidity of the cheese making process may damage them
  • A suitable cover for the pot
  • A stainless steel knife with a blade long enough to reach the bottom of the pot
  • A ladle
  • hot water
  • kitchen timer
  • measuring cups
  • Cooking Thermometer
  • Collander
  • Cheesecloth
  • Pressing mold (the press the cheese into form and drain excess water)
  • Brush and cheese wax

The Steps

Keep in mind, each recipe will be different. Some may not follow all these steps, some may have some extra things that need to be done. This is meant as a general outline to the steps in making cheese.

  1. Pasteurization
    Although this is needed only for raw cow milk, it will make a better cheese even if you do this on store bought milk. Pasteurization involves heating the milk to a temperature of 161 degrees F in a double boiler (to prevent scolding).
  2. ripening
    Ripening is accomplished by adding the starter culture (bacteria) to the milk to begin the process of separating the curd and whey. Add the culture and stir for a few minutes to evenly distribute it. This is usually done at 85-95 degrees F for about 45 minutes, but again it will vary depending on your culture and cheese recipe. It also needs to be maintained at this temperature, generally a good way to do this is to place your pot in a stopped sink and periodically add hot water.
  3. Add Calcium Chloride (optional)
    A good idea if you're using store bought milk.
  4. Add Rennet
    You'll need to dilute the rennet in cold water before adding it to the milk, and stir it in very gently. It should not take more than 45 minutes to finish its job, or you did not add enough.
  5. Cut the Curd
    Next you'll need to cut the curd into small pieces. You're ready for this step when the curd can be cut and leaves a clean separation. Insert your thermometer at an angle into the curd and if the hole remains, it's ready. With your knife, cut the curd into about 1/2" squares (cut across 1/2" one way, then rotate 180 degrees and do it again). This makes it much easier to drain the whey and form the cheese. Now use your ladle and sink the top of it below the surface of the curd about 1/2" and move it all around the surface. This is to break up the curd into 1/2" high pieces. Lower the ladle a bit and do this until you hit the bottom. Don't worry, this doesn't have to be exact and you can cut up any big pieces with a knife.
  6. Cooking the Curd
    To cook the mixture, you'll want to place it in a hot water bath. The temperature depends on the cheese, however you should be careful not to heat the cheese more than 2 degrees at a time. You'll also want to stir frequently.
  7. Draining
    You should now pour the curds and whey into a colander lined with cheesecloth. This should be left to drain until the cheese is ready, follow the recipe instructions.
  8. Salting
    After draining, salting helps to dry out the rest of the whey and adds flavor. Generally a coarse salt is better (I use coarse ground kosher salt).
  9. Pressing
    You'll need to line your cheese press with cheesecloth that has been boiled for at least 30 seconds to sterilize. Make sure that the cheesecloth is even in the mold so the cheese will have a smooth surface. You'll also want to place a catch underneath the mold to catch the draining whey, it should be something made of stainless steel (do not use anything else!). The amount of weight that must be applied and the time it should be pressed varies from cheese to cheese. You will want to turn the cheese over periodically to promote even draining. For the weight, it's easiest to use a milk jug with water in it and it should be placed gently and slowly on the curds.
  10. Final Drying
    Finally, you'll want to allow the cheese to dry on a clean dry surface. It should be turned twice daily until it is dry, typically 1-3 days. Cover it loosely with cheesecloth and keep it out of sunlight and away from heat.
  11. Waxing
    Melt wax in a double boiler and brush on to the cheese to completely cover it.
  12. Aging
    Once waxed, the cheese should now be aged to enhance the flavor. The aging period depends on the cheese, but aging should take place at 40-60 degrees F and should be turned daily.

And that's it, you have cheese! You may not be able to find all you need locally, but a web search for cheese making supplies will give you plenty of options for rennet, cultures, and other needed items. If you can't find things locally, a good place to start it:

They have links to recipes and places where you can buy equipment. A good starter kit may be what you want, it will include a press, strainer, recipe book, cultures, thermometer, and rennet.

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