Dairy Maiden

Artisanal Cheeses

For Beginners - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What equipment does a beginner need to accumulate?

  • Cheese Press - If you want to do hard cheeses like Parmesan or Cheddar, you'll need a press of some sort. There are various kinds for sale on the internet. You'll want one that can do a 2 or 3 pound cheese.
  • Moulds - Get enough moulds for the size of the make you're going to do. For 1 gallon, for example, you'll need 4 Crottin moulds, or 2 Camembert moulds, or 2 St. Maure moulds.
  • Kitchen timer.
  • Cheesecloth - You'll want both butter muslin and regular cheesecloth.
  • Utensils - Preferably all of stainless steel, NO ALUMINUM! You'll need a longish, lightweight, wire whisk, a long thin knife (to cut curd), a perforated ladle, a dairy thermometer, a large stainless steel stock pot, for a 1-gallon make you'll need a 6-quart one. For a 2-gallon make you'll want a twelve-quart one. A large colander or strainer.
  • Cave - You're going to need a place to age and store your cheeses - unless you're making soft, fresh cheeses like cream cheese. If you can get a wine fridge, that works. Another option I recommend is you buy a Coleman electric cooler, and a thermostat set-up.  Look for it at WalMart. The thermostat you can order from New England Cheesemaking Supply, www.cheesemaking.com. You can also use an old refrigerator if it will stay between 45 and 55 degrees F.
  • Tupperware containers, etc. - To keep your aging cheeses in, and woven sushi mats for draining the cheeses on. Cheese boards are handy, too, plastic or wood. I got my containers at K-Mart.  You can also get a cheap bundle of Martha Stewart brand cotton dishcloths there, and they are lint-free once washed, and are great for cleaning cheese rinds with.
  • Cheese mats - You'll need two for each cheese you make. I have cut mine to fit inside my Tupperware, plus I have some large ones for using on the cheese board on the countertop.
  • Cheese boards - Use smooth sanded wood or food grade plastic. You'll need 2 for each cheese you're manipulating that day.

Q: What ingredients do I need?

  • Milk - If you are buying milk, it is important to get the best you possibly can. If you can get milk in glass bottles with cream line milk, grab it! Non-homogenized milk is best, as homo-genization affects the milk's curding ability. If you have your own animal-fresh milk from the farm, great! Use it! But please don't buy plain old cheap milk and think you'll make fine cheese from it! It will not. Get the best. Pasteurized is okay. UHT, or Ultra Heat Treated milk WILL NOT MAKE CHEESE! In the worst-case scenario, buy a gallon of nonfat skim milk, and add a pint of heavy cream to it. Shake vigorously and mix thoroughly. Cream is not homogenized or UHT. This mix will make cheese!
  • Rennet - This ingredient curdles the milk. I recommend you stick with liquid rennet. I only use traditional animal rennet, in liquid form. There is vegetarian rennet, and Kosher rennet. But I stick to the animal rennet, as it is the gold-standard of cheese for thousands of years.
  • Starter Cultures - these innoculate the milk with good bacteria that create lactic acid. You can't have cheese without them. I use starter culture packets from www.cheesemaking.com, if you want to follow my directions exactly. Other culture sources are out there, just not as convenient for the small-scale cheesemaker.
  • Bacterial Cultures -  Some cheeses have moldy rinds. You buy the special mold powders for white bloomy rinds, or blue mold for blue cheese. You can also culture the blue mold from your favorite blue cheese to use in your own cheeses.
  • Calcium Chloride - This helps your milk turn into firm curds. Unless your milk is farm milk right out of the animal, you'll need calcium chloride.
  • Cheese Salt - You need salt without iodine or trace minerals. I use sea salt. Some people use Kosher salt. I use ice cream rock salt for my brine baths.
  • Lipase Powder - this imparts the flavor to Italian cheeses like Parmesan, and Feta. It will make your cow milk cheese taste like goat's milk, once made into cheese.

Q:How do I heat my milk?

Some people heat their milk in a double boiler over a low burner flame. Some people heat their pot of milk in the sink with boiling water. or you can heat your milk directly on the burner, if you're set up right for it.

I use a 440 watt hot plate, with up to 3 gallons of milk in my stock pot, with my milk directly over the heat. Using a stock pot with a heavy bottom is best, although they can be hard to come by and expensive. The heavy bottom prevents scorching. I keep my burner low enough that I can touch the bottom of the pot with my bare hand, and it's just a cheap stainless pot. I often stir the curds with my hand/arm, as well, when it calls for gentleness, and the temp is 110°F or less.

Please be aware that all through this web site, my method is used throughout, and it is this I have perfected and encourage other home cheesemakers to follow. My cheese turns out great, so the proof is in the pudding.

Q: How do I practice and get ready to make cheese?

However you decide to do it, practice with water in your pot and the heat source setup you plan on using, and your thermometer, until you can hold the water at both 86 and 90 degrees for an hour or more, without scorching or large ups and downs in the temperature.

You will also need to wrap your pot in plush bath towels to keep the milk warm. Once you've added rennet in your milk, you don't want to use direct heat anymore, so you'll need towels.