Cheesemaking: Basic Ingredients, Equipment and Tips

All you need is the right kind of milk, properly sanitized equipment, and some patience to learn the basic process of cheesemaking.

| April 2012

Grab a thermometer, a large pot and a gallon of fresh milk from your local dairy farmer, and jump into the wonderfully delicious world of cheesemaking. In Homemade Cheese: Recipes for 50 Cheeses from Artisan Cheesemakers (Voyageur Press, 2011), author and 20-year veteran cheesemaker Janet Hurst shows you how to easily craft your own cheddar, feta, chèvre, mozzarella and more. Learn how to sanitize cheesemaking equipment, use molds and age a variety of cheeses. Read how the best-tasting cheese comes from real milk and how recordkeeping helps you perfect artisan cheese recipes in this excerpt taken from Chapter 1, “Understanding Cheese.” 

Artisan Cheese Recipes

Tomato and Goat Cheese Fondue 

Small-scale cheesemaking is possible today both on a farm or in the middle of the city. Raw milk can often be purchased from local dairy farmers. Make sure the milk is clean and fresh before you make a purchase. Ask to taste it.

Off-tasting or sour-smelling milk will make off-tasting and sour-smelling cheese, so start off right! Laws governing raw milk sales vary from region to region. Check with the local health department or state department of agriculture to learn about the legality of purchasing raw milk. Pasteurization is important, as the process destroys harmful bacteria capable of causing illness and disease in humans. If raw milk is purchased, pasteurization is recommended, unless you’re making raw-milk cheese, which we will discuss later.

Harmful bacteria in milk has a phenomenal self-replication rate, and bacteria counts increase every hour. It is easy to see how milk that has not been properly refrigerated can quickly become a problem. In his report “Hygiene and Food Safety in Cheesemaking” from the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese, Todd Prichard cites these statistics: “Temperature abuse is the #1 cause of food borne illness. Food must be moved through the Danger Zone as rapidly as possible. We must control the growth of unwanted bacteria or they will rapidly increase in numbers and potentially spoil the end product. Bacteria multiply exponentially (i.e., 1>2>4>8). It will only take 20 generations for one bacterium to become 1 million bacterium.” Proper cooling and refrigeration of milk is essential. Safety first.

Cream-line milk is available in major grocery stores. The cream has not been separated from this milk, so a thick layer of real cream rests at the top of the bottle. This milk has been pasteurized and will work well for the small-scale cheesemaker. For our purposes, whole milk (milk that has not been separated) will be used.

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