Introduction to Soft Cheeses


Soft cheese is a healthy cultured food that is as versatile as is delicious. It is a high-moisture, spreadable cheese that is eaten fresh. Soft cheeses such as cream cheese and mascarpone can easily be used in recipes, or stirred into granola, or dolloped on top of pasta, salad, or warm bread. These cheeses have a moist, creamy consistency and can easily be considered a culinary tabula rasa because of the wide range of things you can stir in to make the flavor your own. Fruit, nuts, veggies, herbs: anything can be added to a soft cheese to make spreads, dressings, toppings, or afternoon snacks.

Making soft cheese is a great option for beginning cheesemakers because it requires little equipment, ingredients, or attention. Soft cheese is sometimes called “bag cheese” because it is usually drained of whey in a sack made of butter muslin. Soft cheese is best made in a kitchen with a steady, moderate temperature, around 72°F. Higher temperature or excessive humidity will promote yeast growth, which in turn will affect the taste of the cheese. Yeast-affected cheeses will taste gassy, off-flavored, or even fruity. If the temperature in your kitchen drops too low, it will impede proper drainage of your soft cheese.

One gallon of milk will generally produce between 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of cheese, depending on butterfat content. The more butterfat in your milk, the more cheese you will produce.

Three Basic Steps to Making Soft Cheese

Making soft cheese at home is easy and affordable. Start with room-temperature fresh milk. You can make soft cheese with goat, sheep, mare, cow, or buffalo milk.

If the recipe says to heat the milk before culture addition, it’s most successful to heat it indirectly. This can be achieved by a water bath method, or by use of a double boiler. If you are heating a large quantity and cannot do an indirect heating method, make sure you stir the milk frequently, and constantly once it approaches its final temperature, to avoid scorching.

To add powdered culture or starter, sprinkle it over the surface of the milk, allowing it to rehydrate for a few minutes before stirring it in with a cheese spoon in steady up-and-down motions. To add an acidic starter, such as lemon juice or vinegar, pour it through the holes in your cheese spoon into the milk and incorporate it using the same long and steady up-and-down motions.

Sometimes a recipe will call for a small amount of rennet for firmer curd coagulation. Add it in the same manner as you would an acidic starter.

Once the curd has formed, disturb it as little as possible until you are ready to drain it. Messing with a developing curd will cause it to lose crucial butterfat, and this will lessen the quantity and the quality of the resulting cheese.

To make a draining sack to drain cheese, you will need a clean colander and about a yard (more or less) of butter muslin. Place your colander into a slightly larger bowl, and drape the muslin over the colander. Either spoon or pour your curds into the muslin-lined colander, depending on the recipe’s instructions. Once you have gathered all the curds into the colander and are ready to drain, tie the corners of the muslin together to make a sack, and use a wooden spoon or a sink faucet to suspend it over a bowl for the duration of the draining period.

Once the curds have drained sufficiently, scoop them into a plastic container, preferably with a lid. Add salt or anything your recipe requires, and cover the cheese tightly before placing it into the refrigerator. The average staying time for a fresh soft cheese is 1 to 2 weeks, covered, in the refrigerator.

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Soft Cheese

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