Long ago, a man lost to history decided to taste the curds formed from the spoiled milk he was storing in an animal bladder and serendipitously discovered the wonder that is cheese. He must have known he was onto something good, as today there are hundreds of varieties of cheese enjoyed all around the world. This ancient dairy product is limited only by the creativity of its makers, ensuring that new varieties of cheese are invented every year.
Today, the sheer variety of cheese means that most of us think that making it is a complex science that only trained experts can understand. Not only is this a tragic waste of potential cheese innovation, it’s also completely untrue. Anyone can make homemade cheese with the right mindset and little enthusiasm.
Making your own cheese is a fun hobby and an easy way to save money, eat healthier and tap into your creative side. Whether you plan to host a fancy wine and cheese night or simply want to become more self sufficient, there is no reason why you shouldn’t delve into the rewarding practice of homemade cheesemaking.
Why make your own cheese?
There are plenty of reasons to try making your own cheese, from health benefits to creative satisfaction. Some of the top reasons to try your hand at cheese making are listed below.
You’ll stand out
Cheesemaking has become a forgotten skill in our culture. Not many people realize cheese can even be made outside of a giant factory, meaning that your homemade creations are sure to be a hit with everyone that tries them.
You can never be sure what’s in commercially produced cheeses. Artificial colors, additives and nasty waxes are all fair game, making this kind of cheese a quality gamble. Alternatively, making your own cheese allows you to have complete control over the ingredients you use, meaning that you can choose high quality milks, lower the salt content and even personalize your recipes with your own herb and spice combinations.
Benefits of fermentation
The process of turning milk products into cheese is done through fermentation, which is a proven way to improve your health. Fermenting dairy increases the amounts of bacteria, vitamins and enzymes available in it, which helps to keep your digestive system working properly.
Deeper, richer flavor
Cheese made from raw milk has a deeper, richer flavor than the type made from pasteurized milk, meaning that your cheese will be a truly unique culinary experience.
Better connections to the land
Making your own cheese puts you in control of the entire creative process, meaning that you will naturally begin to gravitate towards the highest quality ingredients. In many cases, these can only be purchased directly from farmers or at farmers markets, which helps you to foster a connection with the producers of your food. Oftentimes homemade cheese enthusiasts get so passionate about their craft that they transition to keeping some of their own animals in order to have complete control over the quality of ingredients they use.
Compared to price of cheeses in specialty stores, homemade cheese is downright inexpensive. All you need are a few basic supplies and you’ll soon be able to make specialty cheeses for pennies on the dollar.
Health benefits of homemade cheese
In the past few decades, cheese has earned itself a bad reputation due to its high saturated fat content. However, the negative health claims are completely misleading. In fact, new research has shown that saturated fat isn’t as bad for us as experts once thought.
In fact, cheese is full of beneficial nutrients like calcium, zinc, phosphorus, protein and vitamin B12. Because calcium is one of the most lacking nutrients in western diets (9 out of 10 women aren’t getting enough), it is especially important to ensure that your diet contains enough to keep you healthy.
Natural vs “fake” cheese
You might not think there is much difference between the processed cheeses in grocery stores and the homemade varieties you can make yourself, but the truth is that the two products are so different they have little in common. Natural cheese is made through the simple process of fermenting dairy with a few key ingredients like salt, rennet enzymes and a starter culture. In contrast, processed cheese is made through highly pasteurized dairy products that kill off any beneficial bacteria within the milk. Because this also kills off much of the natural taste, an enormous amount of additives like sodium phosphate and coloring agents are used to modify the product and add back some flavor. Not only are these products devoid in natural cheese’s health benefits, they can be downright dangerous for you and should be avoided at all costs.
Essential cheese-making supplies and where to get them
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to buy a bunch of specialty equipment to start your journey into cheesemaking. Instead, just a few key pieces of supplies are needed to get started.
- Milk: The most important ingredient in cheesemaking is milk, and the quality of milk that you invest in will make all the difference in your final product. Any type of animal milk can be used to successfully make cheese, but cow, goat and sheep are by far the most common. Either raw or pasteurized can be used, though ultra-pasteurized tends to be too processed to form high quality curds.
- Starter cultures: Usually sold as powders, cheese starter cultures are specific mixes of bacteria that acidify your milk in order to grow the proper bacteria to form the cheese you are making. You can buy starter cultures online or at specialty cheese shops.
- Coagulants: Added after the starter culture, coagulants are used to turn milk proteins into curds. Animal rennet is the most popular form, but vegetable rennet can be used with success as well.
- Salt: As a natural preservative, salt is an essential part of cheesemaking that adds both flavor and longevity to your homemade cheeses.
- Large stock pot: Most cheese recipes require at least 2 gallons of milk, meaning that a large pot is necessary for properly mixing all the ingredients. Stainless steel tends to work best, and reactive metals like aluminum should be avoided because it will give your cheese a metallic flavor.
- Thermometer: Cheesemaking is heavily dependent on controlling temperatures, so don’t skimp out on a high quality thermometer for getting accurate readings. Getting one that can clip onto the side of your pot is ideal.
- Long-handled spoon: You’ll use this spoon for everything from adding the starter culture to scooping out the rennet, so be sure to invest in one you like. Plastic, bamboo or stainless steel are all good kinds of materials to invest in.
- Large bowl: This bowl is used for indirectly heating your milk and catching the excess whey. It’s smart to choose a sturdy one that won’t accidentally tip over during the chaos of cheesemaking.
- Cheesecloth and butter muslin: Cheesecloth is what you use to strain your cheese, meaning that it pays to be picky with the type of cheesecloth you buy, as ‘butter cheese cloth‘ tends to be the best and have the smallest weave. For the true cheese lover, buying cheesecloth in bulk will save you plenty of money in the long run.
- Colander: Because they are used for draining the whey away from your cheese curds, it is essential to choose a colander made out of non-reactive materials. It’s best to have a separate colander on hand just for cheesemaking rather than using the one from your kitchen.
Easy types of cheese to make
There is an enormous variety of cheeses that can be made at home, but some are significantly more difficult than others. In order not to get discouraged, brand new cheesemakers need to stick with the basics for their first few attempts. Below are three easy and delicious varieties of cheese that are simple enough for beginners while still being impressive enough to brag about.
- Mozzarella: A favorite cheese in southern Italy, mozzarella is a world famous variety that has an incredible flavor profile when mixed with tomatoes or pasta. With a little rennet and citric acid, you can make this light cheese in less than thirty minutes following this recipe.
- Farmer’s cheese: Popular in the United States, Farmer’s Cheese is a pressed form of cottage cheese that is easy to make with rennet and a bacteria starter to milk from cows, sheep or goats. Farmers cheese tends to melt well, making it perfect for baking. Because it is unaged, this kind of cheese will spoil in about a week, but this recipe is so delicious you won’t have to worry about it sticking around too long.
- Cream cheese: You’ll never go back to store-bought again once you experience how simple and delicious homemade cream cheese can be. Just get hold of some mesophilic starter and follow this recipe in order to take advantage of this simple cheese creation.
Top cheesemaking resources:
Mastering the basics of cheesemaking takes more than reading online articles, which is why books can be such a big help. The three titles listed below have been written by homemade cheese experts and are filled with top tips and stellar recipes to help you perfect your own skills.
- Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses by Ricki Carroll. If you want to slowly get started in the cheesemaking world, this exceptional cookbook has over 75 recipes that require only a few types of cheese cultures, meaning you’ll be able to make most of them with the supplies you already have in your kitchen.
- Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by Gianaclis Caldwell. For those that have some basic experience and are looking for inspiration, this book is filled with gorgeous pictures and tasty recipes that will help you take your cheesemaking to the next level.
Don’t be intimidated any longer; it’s time to take cheesemaking back from the realm of the experts.
Getting a start in basic cheesemaking is easier than you think, and the results of your experiments will leave you with incredibly tasty, surprisingly healthy homemade cheeses to share with your friends and family.
Once you get started in this rewarding hobby, you won’t want to stop until you’ve experimented with dozens of varieties. Small batch cheesemaking is a pastime that is sure to delight you for years to come.