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Choosing Milk for Culturing Projects


Once you receive your new dairy culture, it's time to add milk. The grocery store may carry a variety of milk, and choosing the right one for your culturing project can be confusing.

Consider the outcome you desire when choosing between the different types of milk.


Cow milk is the most popular choice for culturing. Heating encourages the proteins to coagulate, resulting in a thicker product than unheated or raw milk.

Goat milk is becoming more popular for culturing. The structure of goat milk is different from cow milk and results in a thinner finished product than that made from cow milk. 

Sheep milk is sweeter than cow milk and contains more protein, resulting in a thicker, creamier product. It is used more for making cheese than for making yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk.

Non-dairy Milk may be used to make some cultured dairy products. Consult the instructions for the culture being used to see if non-dairy milk maybe appropriate.

Fat Content

Skim milk is whole milk that has had the cream skimmed off of the top. It is generally fat-free or nearly so and is very thin in texture when poured.

Skim milk tends to make a very tart and thin yogurt or kefir. It also tends to be grainy and have a less-pleasant mouth feel, as it lacks the creamy richness of milk fat.

2% Milk has a portion of the cream removed, so that only 2% of the volume of milk you purchase is made up of dairy fat.

Cultured products made from 2% milk will be thicker and a bit creamier than those made from skim milk, but not quite as rich and smooth as those made with whole milk.

Whole Milk contains around 3.2% fat. Whole milk has left the cream of the milk intact with the rest of the milk.

Whole milk makes the thickest, smoothest cultured dairy product.


Raw milk labeled raw has not been pasteurized. Each state has different laws surrounding the sale of raw milk.

Raw milk tends to stay fresh for a shorter time than pasteurized, generally only a week to ten days, after which it will begin to culture naturally, or clabber.

Pasteurized milk has been heated to 161°F for 15 to 20 seconds. Pasteurization is usually done to kill much of the bacteria in the milk and to increase shelf life.

Pasteurized milk can have a different flavor than unpasteurized milk, most notably a “cooked” flavor that may come through in your cultured dairy products.

Ultra-Pasteurized milk has been heated to 275°F for about one second. This heating (actually cooking) of the milk extends the shelf life to the point that it can stay reasonably fresh even without refrigeration for much longer than ordinary pasteurized milk.

Because it is a cooking process, though, the milk is sterilized and fairly unsuitable for culturing. If UHT milk is the only variety of milk available, we recommend using a direct-set culture. The nature of UHT milk makes it difficult to perpetuate over time, so heirloom starters do not culture consistenly, or maybe at all. In the case of cheesemaking, ultra-pasteurized milk is never recommended with any type of starter culture.


Homogenization is a treatment that prevents the cream from separating from the milk. Most cow milk available in stores is homogenized. Goat and sheep milk are naturally homogenized.

With non-homogenized milk the cream will rise to the top of the cultured product just like it does with the milk, so the top layer of the yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk will be thicker and more yellow in color.

Choosing Milk for Cultured Dairy

When it comes to milk, the possibilities are numerous, and the decision may be difficult if you have many varieties available. Try different kinds of milk until you produce a cultured product that suits your personal taste. 

The choice is up to you!


Choosing Milk for Culturing Products

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