So you're ready to make your own cheese. You've read the articles, you've chosen a milk (cow, goat, sheep, pasteurized or raw) and you are chomping at the bit. You have visions of an amazing aged cheddar, or a slowly melting brie. Or if you're slightly less ambitious, just a tasty mozzarella to melt over homemade pizza.
Next up: Supplies! Don't worry; you probably have a lot of what you need at home already. But in case you don't, here is a list of our essentials for basic cheese making.
- A large stock pot. Most hard cheeses require 2 gallons of milk, so make sure that your pot has enough room to hold 8 quarts. You'll also need to add approximately one cup of additional ingredients to your cheese, and you'll need to stir comfortably. If in doubt, use the largest stock pot you can find. Be sure to use a pot made of a non-reactive metal (such as stainless steel) or one with enameled lining. Avoid aluminum and other similar metals.
- A thermometer. A basic meat thermometer will work, but we recommend a digital model that won't break when you inevitably drop it in your whey. A water-resistant digital model that can be calibrated is ideal and we offer such a model here on our site.
- A measuring cup. Glass is best because it's easy to rinse out and non-reactive. Plastic works too, but can react to certain cultures. Metal should not be used.
- Wooden spoons. Bamboo is wonderful for stirring cheese: it's comfortable to hold, non-reactive, and easy to clean. Stainless steel looks beautiful but you must make sure it is non-reactive. (Some stainless steel is treated with silver to make it anti-bacterial, which can damage the cultures.)
- Good cheesecloth. It's worth spending the extra money because you can use it over and over and over again.
- A cheese press. If you want to make hard cheeses, you will need one eventually. It is a large expense, but the homemade substitutions are mediocre at best, and can ruin your cheese at worst.
- An apron. This is technically an optional thing, but trust us: it will change your life. You will inevitably spill on yourself and the apron will protect your clothes, but more importantly, putting on an apron is like putting on a uniform. It will help get your head in the game.
Now you've got your supplies ready to go, it's time for ingredients! All the ingredients we sell here at Cultures for Health can be used for cow, goat, or sheep milk, and all work well with both pasteurized and raw milks.
- Mesophilic culture. A mesophilic, or cool temperature-loving culture, can be used for most soft and hard cheeses.
- Thermophilic culture. Thermophilic cultures are used in Italian cheeses, as well as cooked curd cheeses like cottage cheese and mozzarella. Both mesophilic and thermophilic cultures are inexpensive, keep for a long time in the freezer, and are nice to keep around.
- Rennet. You will need rennet for 90% of cheeses. Professional cheesemakers generally prefer animal rennet, but vegetable rennet works too. Keep in mind that vegetable rennet is "double-strength" so you'll be using half the amount you would use if using animal rennet.
- Sea salt. While some cheesemaking books recommend cheese salt, which is the same as kosher flake salt, basic sea salt works just as well, adds a unique flavor to your cheese, and is full of good-for-you minerals.
With these eleven items, you should be able to make most cheeses successfully. Other items like cheese wax, blue and white mold cultures, and special soft cheese molds can be added to your collection later. Now go forth and have fun!