Cheese is made in a wide variety of styles, tastes, aromas, and consistencies; from soft to hard, sharp to mild, and wet to dry. Traditionally, cheese is made by culturing milk either by encouraging natural enzymes and bacterial action (in raw milk), or by using a starter culture. While the exact steps and ingredients may vary between recipes, the fundamentals stay the same.
Sanitizing Your Work Area
Cleanliness before, during, and after making cheese is very important. Before you begin your first cheese project, review our article on Sanitization During Cheesemaking for tips on keeping the cheese work area and utensils clean to avoid contamination.
Basic Ingredients For Making Cheese
While there is some variation and individual choice within each category, there are four basic ingredients usually used to make any cheese: milk, starter culture, coagulant, and salt.
Milk for Cheesemaking
The main and most important ingredient in any cheese is milk, of course. Cheese can be made using almost any type of animal milk, though cow, goat, and sheep milk are most commonly used. Raw or pasteurized milk is fine for cheesemaking.
It is best to avoid ultra-pasteurized or ultra-high temperature pasteurized milk since it is highly processed and will not produce a satisfactory curd. The following articles are helpful for learning more about choosing milk for cheesemaking:
Cheese Starter Cultures
There are many, many different kinds of cheese culture available. Cheese starter cultures are usually sold in powdered form and consist of a specifically selected group of bacteria that cause acidification, making your milk the perfect environment for good bacteria growth and flavor development. The cheese starter culture used determines the taste, texture, and aroma of the final cheese.
Coagulants Used in Cheesemaking
Coagulants are added after the starter culture and are used to solidify milk protein into cheese curds. The most common coagulant is animal rennet, but vegetable rennet is available as well, in both liquid and tablet form.
Salt for Cheesemaking
Salt is a natural preservative and a very important element in good cheesemaking, not only for flavor. To learn more about why cheese is salted and what type of salt is best for cheesemaking, consult our article, Salt in Cheesemaking.
Most soft cheeses can be made using common kitchen items. Check our Basic Supply List for Beginning Cheesemakers to see if you already own everything on the list.
When ready to advance to hard cheeses and more difficult cheesemaking tasks, add to your supplies from our list of Advanced Cheesemaking Equipment or browse our wide selection of home cheesemaking supplies.
If you are a beginning cheesemaker, start with small batches and basic recipes, and learn about ingredients and techniques from our staff. Our Introduction to Soft Cheeses is a great place to begin learning about soft cheesemaking. Continue learning about more advanced techniques in Cheesemaking Basics Part II.