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A Guide to Some of the Additive Ingredients Used in Home Cheese Making

Some of the ingredients seen in some cheesemaking recipes can be confusing and cause the beginning cheesemaker to feel daunted. Please don’t let the weird names scare you off from possibly making some wonderful cheeses. The unfamiliar ingredients are usually easy to apply or add, and can aid you in understanding some of the very important changes that happen to milk during the cheesemaking process. 

Chemical additions to home cheesemaking generally accomplish one or both of two things:

  1. To add back to your milk what industrial safety processes have taken from it.  (Or to re-stabilize something that has been thrown off by those processes.)
  2. To make your final product as visually pleasing as possible.

Calcium Chloride

Calcium chloride is called for quite frequently in a lot of the most popular cheese recipes out there.  It is generally needed when the milk you are using to make cheese has been pasteurized and/or homogenized. During pasteurization and homogenization, the chemical structure of your milk is changed drastically. Those changes include a slight decrease of calcium levels within the milk, destabilizing it. You need that calcium during cheesemaking to help your curds “firm up” to the right consistency for making a cheese that  is not waxy or sticky in texture. By adding calcium chloride to the milk before adding your coagulant, you help to re-stabilize those calcium levels. Calcium chloride is a type of salt solution and it is generally stored in the refrigerator, or according to the specific directions noted by your supplier. Kept cold, calcium chloride can usually be kept for about a year. 

Lipase Powder

Lipase is a naturally occurring enzyme found in raw milk. Lipase powder is a concentrated form of that enzyme called for in cheese recipes to create a stronger or sharper flavor in the cheese. It also helps to develop a distinctive aroma. There are two kinds of lipase powder:  Italase (calf enzyme) and Capalase (goat enzyme).  Italase is considered to lend a milder sharp flavor while Capalase is stronger and more pronounced, with a sharp, tangy flavor and smell. By using lipase powder (whichever degree of potency required) in combination with certain cultures you can achieve the richness and texture of a goat milk cheese while only using cow milk to make it. Like calcium chloride, lipase is added to the milk before the rennet is incorporated.  Lipase powder is kept frozen when not in use, and must be used within 12 months. 


Sometimes called activated charcoal, ash is used primarily in softer cheeses. It is a powdered, food-grade vegetable ash. The most common form of usage is sprinkling it on the outside of your cheese (usually goat milk soft molded cheeses).  It helps to create an attractive rind, encourage beneficial mold growth, and hinder bad bacterial action. The ash can be mixed with salt and put into a designated salt shaker and carefully shaken onto the surface of the cheese, or it can be rubbed into the surface gently if your recipe instructs you to do so. All of this must be done with care as the ash is messy and stains on contact. You can use plastic gloves and place your cheese into a plastic tub of some sort to keep the mess contained. As you sprinkle, you can pat the ash onto the cheese’s surface to adhere it. Some people use it during the curd-molding process to create striking lines within the center of cheese, but this technique is usually called for and explained in some of the more advanced recipes. You should follow the usage and storage directions specified by the supplier you order it from.

Annatto (cheese coloring)

Annatto is a form of food coloring used to lend their classic orange color to cheeses such as Colby and cheddar. Annatto is harvested from the seeds of the achiote tree.  It can be found in liquid, ground, or paste form. The liquid version is usually available at cheese supply houses, and the ground or paste version can be found at some grocers. It may also be found in some Latin American or Caribbean markets. Annatto works by attaching itself to the casein within the developing cheese.  It has no affect upon the ultimate flavor of the cheese.  It can also be used as a cheese wash to create an attractive blush upon the rind of a cheese. The liquid should be stored according to the supplier’s directions, and the other forms can usually be stored at room temperature, but check the packaging to be sure.


Although rennet is the most popular form of coagulant, some soft cheese recipes use varying kinds of acid to cause or aid coagulation during the cheesemaking process.  They are used primarily for making soft bag cheeses. Common acids called for include:  vinegar, tartaric, lemon, orange, lime, and citric. Your recipe will tell you what kind of acid you need and usually give directions on when, where, and how to add it.

Please be sure to review your recipe and all of the directions prior to cheesemaking more than once to make sure you have all of the ingredients that you will need on hand and so that you can familiarize yourself with them and the reasons and ways they are used. By adding the various ingredients your recipe tells you to add, you can be more assured your cheese will not only turn out well, but will be more likely to match the pictures and specifications of the recipe.



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