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Both cheesecloth and butter muslin are very important to the cheesemaking process, and each is better for different tasks in home cheesemaking. Learn more about each type of cloth below.
Cheesecloth is a loosely woven cloth used for lining colanders, making draining sacks, covering air-drying cheeses, making smoking sacks, and bandaging both hard and soft cheeses.
Cheesecloth, with its loose weave, is better for bandaging and air-drying cheese, because it allows more air to access the cheese. It is also better to use cheesecloth when making a cheese that is dry in texture, because it will allow for a more thorough draining.
Cheesecloth can often be purchased at the grocery store or at fabric stores. It is inexpensive and readily available. However, cheesecloth found at the grocery store may not be the type for washing and reusing for cheesemaking. Look for good quality unbleached cheesecloth for home cheesemaking projects. For instructions on cleaning and reusing cheesecloth, see below.
Butter muslin is great for draining moist cheeses and soft cheeses, because the tighter weave does not allow for complete draining of vital moisture and butterfats. Butter muslin is good for holding in small, soft curds.
Butter muslin can be more difficult to find, because it is more of a specialty item, only used for cheesemaking. Stores that sell quality cheesecloth often carry quality butter muslin too, although it might be slightly more expensive.
Butter muslin can be washed, dried, and reused many times (see below), but odors, flavors, and pieces of curd will stick to tightly woven butter muslin more readily than it will to cheesecloth. Be very diligent about keeping it clean to avoid imparting off flavors to the next batch of cheese.
If the cloth is only used to drain curds, it will not be as difficult to clean as if it is used to press or age cheese for a long period of time.