Say Cheese!

Learn How to Make Cheese at Home

Say Cheese!

Modern homesteading combines elements of sustainability with the skills of making things from scratch, all to improve our lives. It’s hard work but we all agree the rewards are worth it. Learning how to make cheese at home fits right into that description. Whether we own dairy animals, obtain our milk from other homesteaders, or simply craft delicious food from high-rise apartments, knowing how to make paneer, mozzarella, or the delicious hard cheeses found only in specialty supermarkets gives us access to premium products and the satisfaction that we did it ourselves. And cheesemaking isn’t difficult. Sure, there’s a learning curve and you need specific equipment, but if you start at the simplest recipes and work up, you’ll soon have amazing selections, made with your own two hands.

How to Make Mozzarella Cheese in Seven Easy Steps

You can learn how to make mozzarella cheese, start to finish, within 30 minutes. It’s so easy you can do it while crafting the rest of your dinner.

When I learned how to make mozzarella cheese, I had no idea I’d be starting an addictive legacy with my daughter. Either she warms the milk and adds rennet, stretching curd to make cheese, while I knead and rise the pizza crust, or I’ll craft mozzarella while she slices and roasts eggplant and simmers garden marinara, making ricotta cheese to layer between.

Because making mozzarella cheese is that easy. If you keep key ingredients on hand, it can be as spontaneous as craving cheese, pulling milk from the fridge, and whipping it up before the hour is over.

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Photo by Shelley DeDauw

Simple Mozzarella Ingredients

  • One gallon whole milk, not ultra-pasteurized
  • ½ tablespoon citric acid or 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • ¼ tablet or ¼ teaspoon cheesemaking rennet
  • ½ cup cold water

Necessary equipment includes a pot holding at least a gallon, dairy thermometer, slotted spoon, colander and cheesecloth, microwave-safe bowl, and the microwave itself.

The milk: Use whole milk. Because cheese is composed of curdled proteins and butterfat, two percent milk produces half the cheese as four percent. A gallon of each costs about the same. So, get the most for your money and buy milk with high-fat content. Raw milk is fine, as is pasteurized. But do not use ultra-pasteurized (UP) or heat-treated (HT) milk because it will not curdle. If you purchased UP milk, either drink it or make yogurt from scratch and use it for that. UP milk cultures just fine.

The citric acid: I learned how to make mozzarella cheese using citric acid but reworked the recipe for my sister, who is allergic to corn. Acid makes proteins curdle, so citric acid, distilled vinegar, and lemon juice are all fine. But in the United States, the citric acid and distilled vinegar are both made with corn. It’s nice to have alternatives when serving loved ones with allergies.

The rennet: Purchase cheesemaking rennet; types intended for custards and desserts are not strong enough. Good rennets can be found online or in brewing supply stores, and tablets work just as well as liquid. If you’re just learning how to make mozzarella cheese, purchase tablets because unused portions can be frozen between cheesemaking adventures. I prefer liquid; it’s great if you know you’ll use it all before it expires.

The water: Yes, that matters too. Chlorine and heavy metals interfere with curdling so bottled or distilled water are best.

These ingredients are for cow milk mozzarella. Making goat cheese mozzarella also involves thermophilic starter culture to help curdle proteins. That recipe can be found in Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making book.

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How to Make Mozzarella Cheese

When I make pizza, I mix and kneed the crust first then put it in to rise. Then I start making cheese. By the time my mozzarella chills in the refrigerator and I’ve mixed up a sauce, the crust is ready to roll. Chilling mozzarella makes it easy to slice into perfect pizza-topping coins.

Got your ingredients? Your equipment? Ok, start your timer!

Step 1: Warm milk within the pot, over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally to avoid scalding. At the same time, separate water into two separate ¼-cup containers. Dissolve citric acid or lemon juice in one and rennet in the other. If rennet tablets don’t fully dissolve, don’t worry.

Step 2: When the milk registers 55 degrees on the dairy thermometer, add the mixture of citric acid and water. Stir gently. As heat climbs, you’ll see the liquid attain a grainy texture as proteins curdle.

Step 3: When the milk registers 88 degrees on the dairy thermometer, add the mixture of rennet and water. Stir gently. Now, as heat climbs, you’ll see those small grains change into larger, rubbery curds surrounded by yellowish whey.

Step 4: When the milk registers just over 100 degrees, either lift curds from the whey with a slotted spoon or line a colander with cheesecloth and strain curds into a sink.* Collect curds in the microwave-safe bowl.

(*Author’s note: My tomatoes love the whey from my mozzarella. My soil is naturally so alkaline that pouring whey directly beneath plants lowers the pH to a level nightshades prefer. I place a colander over another pot to strain my curds, so I catch every drop of precious liquid. My chickens also crave this protein-rich drink.)

Step 5: Microwave curds for 30 seconds. Squeeze off excess whey and heat again. Carefully, because this can get hot, lift curds and stretch them like taffy, pulling and folding over then stretching again. If curds start to break instead of stretch, return to the bowl and heat another 15 to 30 seconds. Do this four or five times, creating a smooth and elastic product.

Step 6: Salt to taste (I like about a tablespoon per pound of cheese) then heat and stretch one more time to mix it in. Don’t add salt before this point because it can affect stretch.

Step 7: Time to finish it off. How do you like your mozzarella? Separated into three equal portions then heated and stretched so you can braid it? Rolled into little balls and marinated in herbed oil? Or squeezed into one tight ball so you can slice or grate it later? Either way, work it while it’s hot then cool it down. Immerse mozzarella balls in ice water if you wish to use them immediately. Or wrap in plastic and chill in the refrigerator.

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Photo by Shelley DeDauw

A Note about Real Mozzarella

If you’re just learning how to make mozzarella cheese, you may be surprised to find that your finished product does not melt. It stretches. This can be delectable on paninis but an unexpected challenge for macaroni and cheese. Instead of being disappointed, rethink your food’s form. Slice mozzarella into little “coins” to alternate with heirloom tomato rounds on a margherita pizza. Shave narrow slivers to stack over lasagna noodles. Use chopped mozzarella bits on top of pasta, providing texture, rather than melting into the noodles.

How to Make Feta Cheese

Some hard cheeses are intimidating, but feta doesn’t need to be. Making feta cheese is a simple way to practice for more complicated recipes.

New cheese makers often start with fresh cheeses or learn how to make yogurt from scratch. That’s because jumping right into cultured and aged recipes is a big step. And though hard cheeses like cheddar or Roquefort aren’t that much more difficult, they involve more steps and additional ingredients. Making ricotta cheese requires milk, a slow cooker, and an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. It’s easy to master and almost foolproof unless you make a common beginner’s mistake and purchase ultra-pasteurized milk.

Making goat cheese has become popular with small-scale homesteaders because goats are smaller, less expensive, and require less space than cows. And, as I found out when I attended a Moroccan cooking class, that’s why goat and sheep cheeses are so popular in the Middle East. It’s all about space.

Dairy cattle need about an acre of pasture per cow. They also need grass or supplementary hay and grain. Goats will stand on dog houses and eat old Christmas trees. Though Italy contains rolling green hills, the drier Mediterranean areas are more mountainous and more prone to desert scrub. Goats and sheep are a better option.

Greeks learned how to make feta cheese at least 500 years ago; it was first recorded in the Byzantine empire. Traditionally produced from sheep’s milk, it can also be a combination of sheep and goat or entirely out of goat’s milk. Feta attains its acridity from lipase, an enzyme which occurs naturally in sheep and goat milk, giving it that distinguished tang. The cheese is then stored in brine to intensify flavor even further.

Learning how to make feta cheese is a great option for novice cheesemakers for several reasons. It’s made with sheep, goat, or even cow milk. The recipe is quick, curing in less than a week where other cheeses may take up to a year. And it doesn’t require the cool, ventilated places which most aged cheeses need. Feta can be aged within a refrigerator.

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Photo by Shelley DeDauw

How to Make Feta Cheese, the Modern Way

Instead of moving to Crete and obtaining ewe’s milk, simply obtain pasteurized goat’s milk. Cow’s milk is also fine, but if you want the signature acidity you’ll also want to add extra lipase to the recipe. Avoid ultra-pasteurized dairy products; they’re a bane to cheese makers because proteins have been damaged from the high heat and usually don’t curdle.

Other ingredients can be found online or within brick-and-mortar brewing or culinary supply stores. Often, one-stop shopping at an appropriate website can provide all but the milk.

This recipe is one of many within Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making book:

  • 1 gallon pasteurized whole goat’s or cow’s milk
  • ¼ teaspoon lipase powder dissolved in ¼ cup nonchlorinated water (optional)
  • 1 packet powdered direct-set mesophilic starter
  • ½ tsp liquid rennet or ½ rennet tablet, dissolved in ¼ cup water
  • 2-4 tablespoons cheese salt

Optional:

  • 1/3 cup cheese salt
  • 1 teaspoon calcium chloride
  • ½ gallon water

Pour milk into a nonreactive pot such as glass or stainless steel. Add the lipase powder at this time, if you desire a stronger cheese. Heat the milk to 86 degrees then stir in the mesophilic starter culture. Cover and let it sit for an hour. This allows probiotics to grow and ripen the milk.

Add the rennet/water mixture and stir gently for a couple minutes then cover milk again and let it sit for an hour. This allows casein to coagulate so you can separate curds from whey.

During ripening and addition of rennet, keep the milk at 86 degrees. If you cannot maintain this within your kitchen, wrap the pot in towels or let it sit in a sink of warm water.

Using a long kitchen knife, cut the curd into one-inch cubes then let it sit about 10 minutes, allowing the yellowish whey to separate. Stir the curds for 20 more minutes, further breaking up the white cubes. Now line a colander with cheesecloth and drain the curd, catching whey if you wish to use it for other applications like feeding chickens or acidifying garden soil. Tie the cheesecloth into a bag and hang from a rolling pin or strong faucet, draining for six hours.

After those six hours, curds will be compacted into a solid chunk. Cut into one-inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and store it in a covered container in the refrigerator, letting it age about five days.

This produces a mild, dry feta which is ready to be consumed in salads or ethnic dishes like spanakopita.

If your goat’s milk is fresh, you can then brine it for a stronger flavor or store it for more than a few days. Brining isn’t recommended for store bought milk because it can disintegrate, even with the addition of calcium chloride. Mix the cheese salt, calcium chloride, and water. The salt helps intensify flavor while the calcium chloride strengthens cubes. Keep cheese in the brine for up to thirty days.

This recipe makes about a pound of cheese if whole milk is used. Options include adding the lipase for a stronger flavor or leaving it out if you want a milder, more yogurty taste. Adding a few drops of calcium chloride at the beginning make a stronger, drier curd.

Now that you know how to make feta cheese, what’s your next step? Will you try different feta recipes? Add more lipase next time? Or are you ready to move onto more complicated hard cheese recipes?

Excellent Uses of Feta Cheese

  • Marinated in Italian dressing or herbed oil.
  • Sprinkled atop roasted beets and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
  • Served with antipasto such as Kalamata olives.
  • Folded into puff pastry or phyllo dough spinach pockets.
  • Crumbled with fresh oregano and chopped tomatoes, sprinkled onto omelets.

A Traditional Paneer Cheese Recipe

Knowing how to make paneer cheese was a crucial skill for some Indian and Pakistani families. It provided quick, safe vegetarian protein to round out a healthy meal. Making paneer is just as quick and healthy within modern kitchens.

My friend, Nuzy learned how to make paneer cheese from her father. Growing up in Pakistan, she had a cook for most meals. Her mother only made dishes for special occasions. But her dad was the expert on paneer; Nuzy and her siblings gathered around and watched in fascination.

In those days, a milkman delivered fresh cows’ milk in large canisters. It wasn’t pasteurized so Nuzy’s family always boiled it at least three minutes before drinking. Boiling is also the first step in making paneer; adding lemon juice comes next. After straining curds through a cheesecloth, her father saved the whey to make rice dishes, telling his children to never waste such a nutritious byproduct. He rinsed curds then drained them by hanging the cheesecloth overnight. After kneading the cheese into a ball, he used it for meat dishes or a snack.

Nuzy learned how to make paneer cheese so well that, after emigrating to the United States, she tried it from memory and said it “turned out pretty good.”

Though paneer accompanies meat in some cuisine, it’s often used as a vegetarian staple. A large and populous country, India has many religions and caste systems which encourage or mandate abstaining from meat consumption. Cheese provides a complete protein. Perhaps the most popular dish is saag paneer, also called palak paneer, a spiced entrée of cooked spinach or mustard greens bejeweled with cheese cubes.

Paneer is also one of the safest cheese products. Because it’s boiled right before lemon juice is added, and is then eaten fresh, any possible microbes have been destroyed. Raw milk issues are no longer a problem.

Often, making cheese from cows’ milk is different from goat milk. A good cheesemaking book will instruct adding a thermophilic culture to produce goat milk mozzarella or baking soda to make goat ricotta as fluffy as the bovine version. But making goat cheese paneer is the same process as crafting it from cows’ milk. No added cultures or lipase are necessary.

The process can be done in a large pot or a slow cooker, in the same manner used for making ricotta cheese, though the pot is more traditional. It also involves lemon juice, water, a cheesecloth, and colander.

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Photo by Shelley DeDauw

How to Make Paneer Cheese

First, collect whole milk that is either raw or pasteurized. Avoid ultra-pasteurized or heat-treated products. Whole milk is often recommended for burfi, a fudge-like dessert using cardamom and pistachios, while two percent is often used for rasmalai cheese patties that steep in sweetened cream. As with any cheese, using whole milk creates more resulting curd than two percent because the cheese itself is a combination of butterfat and protein.

Heat milk in a slow cooker or pot. How fast you do this is up to you, as long as you don’t burn it. If you don’t want to stand constantly by the stove, stirring, reduce the temperature or use a slow cooker. At the same time, mix ¼ cup lemon juice with about the same amount of water.

Stir milk frequently as it approaches boiling temperature, to avoid scorching. When it bubbles, slowly add the diluted lemon juice. Turn off the heat and keep stirring. Soon white butterfat and proteins will separate, looking like tiny dots within yellowish whey. If milk doesn’t immediately separate, add more lemon juice. Line a colander with tightly woven cheesecloth or butter muslin, setting the colander over a large bowl or pot if you wish to save the whey for gardens, chickens, or other food preparations. Pour curdled milk into the lined colander and allow it to drain.

Lemon juice gives paneer a sour flavor. If you wish to remove this sourness, hold the cheesecloth-lined colander under cool running tap water and rinse the curds. Turn off the water, allow curds to drain again, then wrap them in the cheesecloth and squeeze.

What you do next depends on how you wish to use the paneer.

If you intend to use it as a soft, smooth spread, in the same way you would use ricotta, salt it and you’re done. Drain a little longer if you want a drier curd. But if you want to make a cubed cheese, hang the cheesecloth from a rolling pin or strong faucet, letting it drip a few hours or overnight. You can also squish the curd flat and fold cheesecloth over it, letting it remain in the colander as you set a heavy object, like a full milk jug, on top. This removes excess moisture so you can knead the curd.

Now remove curd from the cheesecloth and place in a bowl. Salt to taste. Knead by pushing and mixing with your fingers until all salt is mixed in, then continue mixing in the same way you’d mix bread: folding over, pressing down, then rotating a quarter turn and repeating. Do this until curd holds together in a smooth ball hat doesn’t crumble.

Shape paneer by pressing it, either by folding cheesecloth over it again and setting a weight atop or pushing it into a refrigerator container and closing it tightly. After a few hours, it can be cut into desired shapes, though it holds together better if you refrigerate it overnight before cutting.

Eat the cheese soon. You can refrigerate several days or freeze for a couple months, keeping in mind that frozen cheese often thaws crumbly.

Nuzy’s family used paneer in saag spinach dishes or stuffed, deep-fried wontons called samosas. She also ate it in vegetarian curries that contained peas or garbanzo beans. It accompanied meat such as goat and lamb.

Whether it’s used to save aging milk or as the main protein in a vegetarian dish, knowing how to make paneer cheese is a simple but useful kitchen skill that has survived generations of tradition.

Crafting Hard Cheeses

Are you ready to move from ricotta to Reggiano? Take a deep breath. The hardest part is maintaining temperature.

Mozzarella, farmer’s cheese, paneer, and ricotta are fresh cheeses. Many goat milk cheese recipes are also considered “fresh” because they haven’t been cultured or aged. These share common traits: They’re soft, mild, and usually have to be kept in the refrigerator.

Fresh cheeses were civilization’s first dairy food. Making goat cheese was a way to preserve milk and make it digestible for adults who could no longer consume lactose. Often, goat herders in Mesopotamia soured milk and strained it into curds to carry on nomadic journeys. It was made quickly and eaten just as fast because those locations did not have the right environments to properly age it.

Paneer and labneh are spreadable cheeses with minimal aging. They come from warm regions such as Pakistan and Lebanon. When humanity migrated from the Middle East into Europe, people discovered cool caves. Cheesemaking burgeoned into a long and delicious legacy. Europe is now home to spectacular hard, aged varieties that are difficult to craft anywhere else. Unless you can augment your environment to mimic those cool caves.

The reason Europe is home to the best hard cheeses is the same reason I only make cheddar in November.

When I learned how to make cheese at home, I started with mozzarella, paneer, ricotta, and soft curds. When I wanted to move onto hard cheeses, I purchased a cheesemaking book. And I was disappointed. Because my specific environment couldn’t be augmented that much, I could not make Parmesan.

Crafting hard cheeses involves four steps. First, begin ripening cheese with a prepared starter culture, which introduces the right beneficial bacteria to create that specific flavor. Separate curds from whey and squeeze out any residual moisture, which can involve draining on a cheese board for a couple days. Third, coat the cheese in wax or beneficial mold to keep good bacteria inside; bad bacteria, yeasts, and molds stay out. Cheese then sits for enough time to allow good bacteria to fully ripen curds into a delectable food.

Aged cheeses need a cool, well-ventilated environment for the entire curing process. This allows for a steady growth of the good bacteria without turning fats rancid. Optimal temperate is 45 to 55 degrees, which occurs naturally within those European caves but is colder than Mesopotamia allowed. It’s also colder than my historical home allows for more than four months out of the year. I don’t have air conditioning, but the heater doesn’t work within my daughter’s half-bath. By duct-taping the toilet to decommission it as a bathroom, I craft cheese in November and set it within a metal cupboard, where it can age through February before the seasons warm the room again.

This doesn’t mean you can’t make hard cheeses. But knowing how to make cheese at home involves creative augmentation of your curing environment.

You may already have the right location for curing cheese. Do you have anywhere in your house, garage, basement, or root cellar which maintains 50 degrees? The length of time it remains that temperature determines types of cheese you can make. A cold garage in New Jersey may allow you to craft goat milk Cheddar, which ages four to twelve weeks. If you have a root cellar on an Alaskan homestead, you may be able to manage Romano, which must sit five to 12 months for perfection.

But technology is a wonderful thing.

Refrigerators keep food just above freezing, restricting bacterial growth; since beneficial bacteria is necessary for proper cheese ripening, refrigerators just won’t work. They also don’t allow proper airflow. But farmers and cheese makers can take advantage of air conditioning boxes and compressors. Computer units such as the CoolBot attach to standard air conditioners and can be set to 50 degrees. This turns an entire room into a meat-and-cheese-curing chamber. Add a little insulation for energy efficiency and you’re making Parmesan, even in Florida.

Other technology-minded cheese makers have refurbished old refrigerators, adding compressors to keep a good air flow while temperature controls stay optimal. Plans can be found online for converting old fridges.

But if you don’t have the right technology, you can craft a mild Monterey jack and cure it for that single month when your garage stays 55 degrees, purchasing good Parmesan from the store.

Obtain a good cheese-making book and the right cultures. Then look around. If you don’t have a cool basement, would a friend allow you to use hers in trade for a wheel of homemade cheese? What varieties can you make within your own home? Though you may feel restricted by time and temperature requirements, there are still many varieties that can be made in short duration. Try feta and chevre if you only have a refrigerator to work with, manchego during a cold spell that may last a week or two, montasio if you’ve got a two-month window, and swiss if you have at least three months. Watching the weather report and estimating curing times is part of the thrill.

And what if you don’t cure it for exactly the time required? It’s usually not that big of a deal.

Sixty days is the minimum time required to nullify listeria and any other bad bacteria in raw milk. Giving or selling under-cured raw cheese falls under local raw milk laws and listeria can be disastrous to pregnant women and small children.

But if you use pasteurized milk, shorter curing times mean a milder and softer cheese that may not melt as well. Letting it sit too long makes a sharper product. Always keep cheese below sixty degrees, or it may rancidify. But if your time runs short, enjoy what you do have.

When learning how to make cheese at home, start with simple cheese and a short curing time and go from there. Once the cheese-making addiction strikes, you may find creative ways to keep it cool.

Why You Need the Right Cheesemaking Supplies

A good inventory of cheesemaking supplies isn’t tough to obtain, or even expensive, but it’s necessary for good cheese. Here’s what you can substitute and why you can’t scrimp on certain products.

If you have already tried your first goat milk cheese recipes, you’ve noticed these call for items like dairy thermometers or cheesecloth. And, if you’re like me, you were so excited to get started that you hated to wait for two-day shipping on these cheesemaking supplies. For mozzarella, that’s fine. You can substitute a sieve for cheesecloth. But to try complicated recipes, you need the proper tools.

Don’t worry. They’re not expensive.

Calcium Chloride

Low calcium levels create a weak curd, which can disintegrate or lose shape. Adding calcium chloride strengthens harder cheeses or products, like feta, which sit in brine.

Can you substitute? Omitting calcium chloride won’t affect ripening; it’ll just make soft cheese.

Cheesecloth

Cheesecloth catches curds and separates whey. Some curds are tiny, such as with ricotta, and good cheesecloth allows drainage of large and small particles.

Can you substitute? Grocery stores sell open-weave cheesecloth but the holes are too large. Other cloth, such as tee shirt material, may be too dense or leave fibers. Butter muslin or tightly woven cheesecloth are crucial cheese-making supplies.

Cheesemaking Book

Though magazines offer great recipes, a cheesemaking book offers even more, in addition to glossaries, troubleshooting FAQs, and histories of specific cheeses. It’s more trustworthy than someone’s blog.

Can you substitute? Start with magazines. Search out books and other cheesemaking supplies when you’re ready to get serious.

Cheese Salt

Salt brings out flavors of finished cheese but iodine inhibits necessary bacteria growth. Cheese salt does not contain iodine. It can also come in flaked form, which dissolves easier than grains.

Can you substitute? Yes, if it’s non-iodized. Flaked kosher salt also absorbs well, where grainy table salts may not. Colored black or red salts may discolor cheese.

Colander

Draining curds through cheesecloth is easier when cloth rests within a colander. It also enables collection of whey.

Can you substitute? Go ahead, but please send me pictures of your results. (I recommend getting a colander. It doesn’t have to be a specific type.)

Curd Cutter

Cutting coagulated curd allows more surface area from which whey can drain. Companies selling cheesemaking supplies offer special cutters.

Can you substitute? Use a long kitchen knife instead. Just don’t cut yourself.

Dairy Cultures

Mesophilic and thermophilic powders for cheese, or probiotic starters for yogurt, contain good bacteria for flavor and texture. If milk is stored warm, bacteria will grow. Make sure they’re bacteria you want. Commercially prepared cultures add pure, high-quality probiotics strong enough to crowd out bad bacteria.

Can you substitute: I use store-bought yogurt with live, active cultures to start homemade yogurt. But beware of store-bought products because bacteria may not be healthy or strong enough to ensure safe growth. Purchasing cultures for yogurt, buttermilk, or cheese is a better guarantee. When making goat cheese, I always use commercial cultures.

Dairy Thermometer

Certain cheeses need to be ripened or curdled at certain temperatures. To obtain the right flavor, add cultures at exactly the right time, which may be 86 degrees, not 85. A dial thermometer often doesn’t have that leeway, especially if it measures up to 250 degrees for candy. Dairy thermometers are specifically for food at lower temperatures.

Can you substitute? Yes, with a digital cooking thermometer. But it needs to be inserted within the liquid. Instant-read infrared thermometers measure surface temperature.

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Molds

Cheese becomes wheel-shaped within molds. Perforations allow drainage and molds are often lined with cheesecloth for easy removal.

Can you substitute? Homemade molds are common cheesemaking supplies. Be sure they are not metal or plastic which can leach chemicals, such as PVC.

Non-Chlorinated Water

Chlorine can interfere with cheese curds because it stops rennet’s enzymatic action. If tap water is chlorinated, either filter it or use bottled water. Keeping distilled water with cheesemaking supplies ensures chlorine won’t be a problem.

Nonreactive Container

Aluminum, cast iron, Teflon, or chipped enameled pots can react with cheese, causing a bad flavor or interfering with ripening or curd.

Can you substitute? No, but stainless steel, unchipped enamel, or glass cookware are a good investment.

Raw or Pasteurized Whole Milk

Proteins and butterfat within the milk separate from whey to create the finished product. More butterfat means more cheese. Using two percent milk will produce very little curd, though a gallon costs nearly as much as whole milk. Also, do not use ultra-pasteurized or heat-treated milk because they have been heated so high that proteins are damaged and will not curdle.

Can you substitute? No. If you purchased ultra-pasteurized cream, use it for butter; ultra-pasteurized milk can still be cultured for yogurt.

Rennet

Originally found in the linings of ruminant stomachs, rennet now comes in animal or vegetarian formulas. It helps cheese curdle and hold its shape so it can be drained and shaped.

Can you substitute? Rennet is necessary for any cheese which is cut or grated. Dessert rennets like Junket are not strong enough; always use cheese rennet, which is sold with other cheesemaking supplies. Liquid rennet is easier to use but tablets can be frozen to extend storage life.

Wax

Coating hard cheeses with wax will maintain moisture levels and inhibit mold growth during curing. Cheese wax is food grade, soft, and can be reused and stored with other cheesemaking supplies.

Can you substitute? Avoid toxins by always using food-grade cheese wax. If you wish to stay away from paraffin, use beeswax instead.

Wax Brush and Pot

Melt wax within the pot and brush it onto dry, formed cheese.

Can you substitute? I use an old, cheap pan. And I dip my wax.

Though some cheesemaking supplies are optional, others are necessary for safe bacterial growth or to avoid toxins. Research recipes to determine which supplies you need then store them together so you’re ready when the cheese-making urge strikes.

All the dynamics of learning how to make cheese at home can’t be contained in a single story or even a magazine issue. Specific nuances, such as texture or time, must be experienced. Beginning cheesemakers soon realize the craft is not difficult. With the right tools and starting from the simplest recipes, it’s a quick and delicious journey to filling your pantry with your favorite varieties.

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