On this page you’ll find the general rules and guidelines to be applied when following any of the recipes for making home-made cheese that I will share with you. I strongly suggest returning to this page each time you begin making cheese at home until you’ve gained enough experience to feel comfortable with the process(es). If you’re already making cheese at home and, whether by experience or education, believe I’m in error, by all means let me know so that I can correct the problem.
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Cleanliness Is Next To Cheesiness
None of the cheese we make will be heated to boiling during the process, meaning none of the bacteria that may be present will be killed. In order to keep such contaminants to a minimum, we need to be as sanitary as possible. I have handkerchiefs that are only used for my cheese making and they are laundered separately after each use. Before beginning, I place all the utensils & bowls that I’m going to use in the dishwasher and clean them using the “sani” cycle. When ready to begin, place about 2 inches of distilled water* into the pot you’ll use to warm the milk/cream. Add to that the cloth you intend to use to strain the curds from the whey, cover the pot, and heat the water to boiling. Boil the water for at least 5 minutes to sterilize the pot, lid, and the cloth. Once sterilized, hang the cloth to dry. With everything clean and sterile, you can begin to make cheese.
* Distilled water is recommended because it will not leave behind mineral deposits in you pan if some of it evaporates during the sterilization process.
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Not All Bacteria Are Bad Bacteria
Cheeses get their distinctive flavors from the dairy product(s) used, aging, seasonings & herbs, enzymes, mold, and bacteria. Lipase, for example, is an enzyme that can be used when making mozzarella to enhance its flavor, while mold is what puts the blue in bleu cheese. The enzymes and living cultures for both molds and bacteria may be purchased on the internet and you may find them at one of the websites within the source list at the end of this page. That’s not necessarily the only way to get them, though. In some cases you can, for example, use buttermilk* to inoculate your dairy product. Similarly, yogurt is another means of introducing “good” bacteria to your dairy. I will direct you to use buttermilk or yogurt whenever possible but be aware that some websites will indicate that particular bacteria be purchased and used. The bacteria they are telling you to use are often the same as is present in buttermilk or yogurt, minus the shipping and handling costs. This certainly doesn’t mean that all of your bacteriological needs will be met by either buttermilk or yogurt, particularly if you make cheeses beyond those that I plan to highlight. They will work, for the most part, with “my” cheeses but, it you’re not comfortable with the idea, you can easily search the web for alternatives.
* Very often in recipes where buttermilk is required, a substitute of milk with a little lemon juice is listed as a viable substitute. That will NOT work here. It is not the flavor, per se, of the buttermilk that is needed but the bacteria causing that taste. In some cases, depending upon the amount of dairy needing inoculation, only a tablespoon or two of buttermilk will be needed. If you bought a pint or, worse yet, a quart, that’s a lot of buttermilk left behind in your fridge. No need to waste it. You can use the surplus to fill an ice-cube tray, freeze it, and store the cubes for a couple of months in bags in the freezer. Before filling the tray, use water and a measuring spoon to determine a close approximation of the amount of buttermilk each cube will subsequently hold.
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Choosing Dairy Products
Pasteurization is the process where milk, in this case, is heated, under pressure, to 167* for 15 seconds and, in so doing, kills off any harmful bacteria that may have been present in the milk. In ultra-pasteurization, the milk is heated, under pressure, to 280* for 2 seconds but, unlike in the first case, it extends the shelf-life to 60 days. In an age where our dairy products are being processed at mega-sized dairies and shipped cross-country, this longer shelf-life is critical. Unfortunately, it is the bane of all home cheese makers for it, also, alters some of the product’s properties, thereby affecting the formation of curds. Now, just avoiding ultra-pasteurized products will not necessarily put you in the clear. You see, some dairies are now heating their products higher than 167* but not high enough to be considered ultra-pasteurized. They get a little longer shelf-life and we get ruined cheese. While it’s true you can avoid these problems by getting raw milk, that could leave you open to a host of other issues. In some cases, you can add a touch of calcium chloride to the milk but that won’t be necessary for any of the cheeses I’ll be showing you. In fact, adding calcium chloride can prove detrimental to the making of mozzarella. I suggest that you look for pasteurized milk that comes from a small, local dairy because there is less need for the producer to extend its shelf-life. If you’re still having problems finding good dairy products, try a larger health food store or, perhaps, a market known for its WHOLEsome FOODS.
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Rennet is a substance that comes from the inner lining of a calf’s stomach. It is used in cheese making to separate curds from whey. You can purchase it in liquid or tablet form and vegetarians can now purchase a vegetarian substitute. Of course, if you’re the adventurous type, you can make your own. To learn how, go to the one of the Fankhauser webpages. (Re-read this paragraph’s 1st sentence before clicking that link.)
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Using Salt And Herbs
Although each cheese recipe will list salt as an optional ingredient, I strongly recommend adding it to any of the cheeses I’m going to show you how to make, unless that cheese will be used in cooking. (For the latter, you’ll want to salt the cheese to suit the recipe in which it will be used.) All of these cheeses lack any form of preservative and, as a result, have a relatively short shelf-life. Adding salt to your freshly made cheeses will extend that period by a few days. Even so, unless otherwise indicated, the cheeses will last only from 1 to 2 weeks, if that.
Although I will talk about using herbs when applicable to a particular cheese, there are some general guidelines that apply to all. First and foremost, be aware that anything you add to your cheese may be a source of contamination and could adversely affect its shelf-life. As a result, whether using fresh or dried herbs, be sure to use the freshest possible. Remember that dried herbs are far stronger than fresh, by about a 3 to 1 ratio. So, for example, where you might use a tablespoon of fresh parsley, you would only need 1 teaspoon of dried for the same effect. Bear in mind, that effect will be tasted much more quickly with fresh herbs. A cheese that has fresh chopped chives added to it, for example, can be served within a few hours. On the other hand, if you’ve added dried chives to your cheese, you should refrigerate it overnight before serving.
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When Ricotta Isn’t Re-Cotta
The word ricotta means to cook again in Italian. The first home-made cheese I shared was a recipe for ricotta, a cheese that is traditionally made by cooking the whey resulting from the production of mozzarella. The whey is, in effect, cooked 2 times, hence the name. Frankly, that’s a lot of work for the home cook to complete for a little bit of cheese. Believe me, I’ve done it. I know. I saw the ricotta recipe I posted prepared on a cooking show that featured the ricotta made in an Italian market, Capone Foods, in Boston. It relies on vinegar to separate curds from whole milk and cream. Since then, I’ve seen a number of chefs follow the same guidelines. If you’re a fan of ricotta, I strongly urge you to try your hand at making it at home, following the recipe I posted here. Chances are, like Zia, you’ll never buy it from a store again.
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- Fankhauser’s Cheese Page
- Larry the Cheesemaker
- Ricki The Cheese Queen
- The Grape and Granary
- Brew and Grow
- “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll
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