Fresh milk and rennet is all you need to make a white, soft and delicious cheese at home.
You probably never thought is that easy, right? And trust me – once you make your first homemade cheese you will never go back to buying cheese in a tub from your supermarket.
Cheese is one of the most popular fermented milk products. Cheese is commonly classified as soft and hard. There are hundreds of different cheeses around the world developed by artisans over time. And now it’s time for you try make it yourself.
Why make cheese at home?
It’s easy, it’s healthy and it’s delicious. Cheese can be made using cow, goat, sheep and donkey milk with cow milk being the most common milk used for making cheese.
The main ingredient for making cheese is milk. The first step of making cheese is curdling the milk. The milk can be curdled with acids such as lemon juice or vinegar or with an enzyme such as rennet.
Rennet can be animal or plant based and it helps milk coagulate. The amount of rennet you will need to use depends on what type of cheese you’re making. For soft cheese you will use less rennet than for hard cheese.
You don’t need special equipment to make cheese at home. You will need a large pot, thermometer, cheesecloth, knife and a colander. I recommend using stainless steel pot or any other pot made of non-reactive material. Avoid using copper, aluminum or non-enameled cast iron pots.
Making cheese at home requires around one hour of your time and an additional 4-5 hours for whey to drain out.
I’m sharing my mum’s cheese making recipe which is easy, simple and delicious. It’s a soft white cheese made of cow’s milk. It’s most similar to queso blanco with difference being using rennet instead of cider vinegar.
I grew up with calling this cheese ‘young cheese’ as mum used to make two types of cheese – ‘young cheese’ which can be eaten as soon as whey is drained out and ‘aged cheese’ which is kept for over a month before it can be consumed.
The ‘young cheese’ can be served with fried eggs and bacon, added to various salads, and on a toast with avocado and other veggies. I also love making different pastries with this cheese with my favorite being spinach and ricotta pastry.
Is cheese fermented?
Yes, cheese is a fermented dairy product. There are more than 2,000 varieties of cheeses with some of the most popular being cheddar, goat, feta, cream, and blue cheese.
Both hard and soft cheese is made by culturing or fermenting milk for a period of time. Some types of cheeses are made by simply straining out the moisture from yogurt or sour cream. While other types of cheese undergo a few additional steps during the fermentation and culturing processes.
For example; cottage cheese that belongs to the class of unripened, natural, soft cheeses requires some additional steps during fermentation. It has a lower fat content than most other cheeses. It is also a good source of protein. This cheese is prepared from pasteurized skim milk, reconstituted non-fat dry milk, or concentrated non-fat milk.
Coagulation of skim milk is accomplished through fermentation. In some cases, a small amount of food-grade acid is used to set the milk. There are several other ways to ferment milk to prepare cheese of different types.
How long does it take to make cheese?
Time is the factor that restricts most of us from preparing food at home. However, fortunately, making cheese at home is not time-consuming as commonly believed.
It may take just one hour to ferment cheese at home. Sometimes, it may take you about 6 to 8 hours to ferment a batch of cheese. The time may even spread out to more than a day depending on the type of cheese you are making.
However, even when you need to spend an entire day in the kitchen making cheese, it is not as if your hands will be full with it throughout the process. There are frequent periods of thirty minutes to one hour when you will just have to wait for a particular process to complete.
Usually, fresh cheese like cream cheese, paneer, chevre, mozzarella, and ricotta take a much shorter time to prepare. Aged cheese such as cheddar, blue cheese, and swiss take a much longer time to complete due to the aging process involved.
The aging of cheese may take anywhere from one or two weeks to nearly 12 months or longer depending on the style you plan to follow.
Monterey Jack is usually ready after one month of aging while a Parmesan style cheese requires aging for at least 9 to 12 months. Bries and Camemberts come out to be perfect after about 6 weeks of aging while Blue cheese may take from 3 to 5 months to age.
However, you do not have to wait for so long. You can stick to the simple process of making fresh cheese at home, particularly if you are keen to save time.
So you are ready to make cheese at home! Before you start with the recipe and choose the milk, you need to gather the cheesemaking supplies.
Probably you will already have in your kitchen most of the tools and equipment you need for cheesemaking. Let’s take a closer look at what all you will need so that you can get what is missing.
A large stock pot
Most cheese recipes need 2 gallons or 8 quarts of milk and about 1 cup of other ingredients that you have to add to a vessel. So, the pot in which you plan to make cheese needs to be large enough to accommodate the contents.
It should be large enough not just to hold that amount, but also to allow you some extra room for stirring the ingredients comfortably.
The pot should preferably be made of unchipped enamel or stainless steel. I would not recommend pots made of aluminum or other reactive metals as these materials tend to seep into the contents, spoil it, or change its taste and texture.
While making cheese, you will need a large bowl for heating milk and catching the whey. You should choose a large, and sturdy bowl that will hold the contents.
Measuring cups and spoons
Measuring cups and spoons will allow you to measure the exact quantities of each ingredient you need to add to the recipe. Do not underestimate the importance of adding the exact quantities of ingredients using this equipment. Sometimes, a minor change in the amounts of ingredients can make a difference to how your cheese comes out to be.
Also, when you know the exact measures, you will gain the confidence to follow the same recipe, again and again, to get perfect results each time.
It is best to use glass or stainless-steel cups and spoons as they are non-reactive and quite easy to clean.
Sanitized nylon or plastic spoons are other alternatives you can choose. If you plan to be into cheesemaking on a regular basis, you can invest in a measuring spoon set that can be used to measure smaller amounts of ingredients.
Having a thermometer can make cheesemaking a more reliable and accurate process. Most brands of thermometers have a clip for attaching to the sides of the pot.
A good quality spoon would be like a third hand for you while making cheese at home. It’s used for incorporating rennet, adding starter culture, stirring as well as scooping curds.
There are several varieties of nylon and plastic spoons, which you can use for cheesemaking. However, small holes in them may make it difficult for you to clean them thoroughly.
You can also choose bamboo spoons for stirring. It is non-reactive, comfortable to use, and easy to clean. A stainless-steel spoon is also a good option.
A colander is needed for separating cheese curd from the whey. Any non-reactive material such as plastic, enamel, and stainless steel will work.
Butter muslin and cheesecloth
Once you have gathered the basic equipment, you are ready to start making cheese at home.
Let’s now look at the cheesemaking the ingredients and the best recipes for preparing cheese.
This is the most important step in making cheese at home. Before you begin with the actual recipe, check out the basic ingredients needed and also the various alternatives you can try.
Milk is undoubtedly the most important ingredient in cheese. Always choose milk that is fresh. If you have access to farm-fresh milk, it is best to get the fresh milk of that day if possible.
If you are using store-bought milk, do not open the container until you are ready to start with the recipe. Most importantly, in case the milk seems to be spoiled or tastes sour, do not use it. Trying to turn spoilt milk into cheese will not help it taste better.
Making cheese coagulates the protein content of milk solids turning them into curds. At first, this curd has a soft and gel-like texture due to all the water and solids present in it. As the curds are heated, liquids in the forms of whey are released gradually. The curds continue to condense more and more until cheese is formed.
Depending on the milk you choose, these processes alter the taste and texture of cheese. Hence, you should choose milk based on how you want your cheese to taste like.
Raw milk straight from the dairy animal, which is later filtered and cooled, can make some wonderful cheese, thanks to its rich flavor. However, if you plan to use raw milk, you need to be a little more careful as it is not pasteurized. Hence, there is a risk of bacteria populating and contaminating it. If you are not confident of the source of raw milk, it is best to pasteurize it before using it to make cheese.
Alternatively, you can use ultra-pasteurized, homogenized, or cream milk. You can also try using dry milk powder or choose non-dairy options such as almond, or coconut milk.
You will need starter cultures that contain friendly bacteria to help “ripen” the milk. Cultures are added to the milk when it is heated to a specific temperature.
These cultures work by increasing the acidity levels, which results in the coagulation of milk to cause separation of whey.
Cultures also ferment the lactose in the milk and initiate the production of lactic acid. The process of fermentation determines the mineral and moisture content of the curds. It can play a big role in determining the texture, taste, and characteristics of the finished cheese.
Mold powders can be added to the mold or bacterial-ripened cheeses to improve their flavors and aroma. These molds are carried in the form of a freeze-dried powder and can be stored in a freezer for improving its shelf life.
Varieties of mold can be used to make cheese such as white mold, red mold (or red linens), or blue mold powder.
Rennet is a type of enzyme that helps in the coagulation of milk. Adding rennet to milk causes the milk proteins to solidify, which helps the milk to separate into whey and curds.
We all know that milk has a tendency to solidify on its own when left out. However, adding rennet is still recommended as it can solidify the milk before its acid levels rise too high and create off-flavors. Adding rennet at the correct stage of “ripening” can keep the milk sweet by solidifying it faster.
Rennet is available in different forms including tablets, liquid, and powder. It is derived from animal as well as vegetable sources. Choosing the type of rennet you want to use for making cheese depends on your personal preferences.
Animal rennet has been used traditionally to prepare cheese. However, recent years have seen a growing usage of vegetable rennet for environmental reasons.
Some additives may be added to milk while making cheese to enhance its flavors and improve its visual appeal. Once you feel comfortable and confident of your skills to make cheese, you can think out of the box or play around with different additives to modify flavors according to your preferences.
You can add cheese salt or herbs and spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and garlic to make it more flavorful.Print
Make fresh cheese (queso blanco) using milk and rennet. The cheese is soft and delicious.
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 2 tablespoon of rennet
- Heat the milk: Pour the milk into a large pot over low-medium heat. Let the milk slowly heat until it reaches 100°F.
- Stir in the rennet: Stir in the rennet slowly into the milk. The curds start to separate from the whey.]
- Low down the heat: Lower down the heat and let the pot sit on the stove for another 10 minutes. During this time, the curds and whey will separate more which will cause a giant blob to form. Cut the blob into smaller cubes or chunks. [Sidebar: The size of curds will affect the amount of moisture retained in your final cheese. The smaller the pieces, the drier cheese will be. I prefer soft cheese hence I cut the blob into larger chunks.] Use a cheeseharp or a knife.
- Transfer mixture into colander: Line a colander with a cheesecloth. Using ladle start transferring curds and whey into the colander. Tie up the end of the cheesecloth making a tight bundle. Cover it with a weight like a small plate with container of water on the top.
- Drain the cheese: Leave the cheese to drain for 4-5 hours on the room temperature.
- Serve the cheese: Unwrap the cheesecloth and take the cheese out. Put the cheese on the chopping board then cut into smaller pieces. Sprinkle with salt then serve it.
- Storage: Place the cheese into container and keep it in refrigerator for up to a week.
Equipment: large stainless steel pot, thermometer, cheesecloth, knife or cheeseharp, chopping board and a colander.
- Serving Size: 100 grams
- Calories: 310 grams
- Fat: 14 grams
- Trans Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 2.5 grams
- Protein: 20 grams
- Cholesterol: 70mg
How to store cheese
Here is the best way to store cheese so that it lasts longer and is protected against spoilage.
- The hard-waxed cheese can be wrapped in a waxed paper before storing. It can be later put loosely into a plastic zip-lock bag or a covered container and stored in the ripening area or the refrigerator.
- Cheese that is packed in brine can be stored in a zipper-style bag. If the brine seems to be cloudy, make a new medium brine to store the cheese.
- Vacuum-sealed cheese can be stored in an airtight container having a lid or a zipper bag.
- Washed rind cheese stays fresh for longer when wrapped in cheese paper and stored in boxes.
- The best way to store blue cheese is to keep it away from oxygen to prevent the overgrowth of the mold. Storing it at a temperature of less than 40°F will help to slow down the growth of the mold. You can also wrap this cheese in plastic wrap and then in foil before storing.
What are other fermented milk products?
Milk can be used as a base to produce a range of fermented products. Fermented milk products have been a part of traditional cooking in several countries. These products are highly regarded for their probiotic properties as well as high nutritional value.
The primary benefits of consuming fermented milk products include improved digestibility, added probiotics, unique flavors, and the presence of vitamins and minerals.
Most fermented milk products tend to have a longer shelf life compared to milk. Here is the list of fermented milk products other than cheese.
Kefir is a yogurt-like drink prepared from milk and kefir grains. Kefir is rich in probiotics and can enhance digestive functions considerably. It also has a longer shelf life and hence, is often fermented in large batches and stored for future use.
Kefir also incorporates numerous essential minerals, vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants, and enzymes including phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins B, D, and A.
Yogurt has been the staple food of the Middle Eastern diet for over thousands of years. This fermented dairy product holds the same amount of proteins and fats as the milk used to produce it. Yogurt also offers a rich source of calcium and vitamins such as riboflavin and niacin.
Yogurt is usually cultured from cow’s milk. However, it can also be made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, each having its own benefits. Sometimes, non-dairy milk such as coconut milk, soy milk, and almond milk are used to prepare yogurt by adding microorganisms that cause fermentation.
During ancient times, sour cream was obtained by simply letting the cream go sour on its own. However, today, a proactive process is followed to ferment cream to make it more sour.
The addition of lactic-acid-producing bacteria such as Streptococcus lactis to the cream stimulates the process of fermentation causing the flavors to become tangy and the texture thicker and smoother.
Sour cream is used as a healthier alternative to mayonnaise in several dishes as it has a much lower fat content and fewer calories.
All this seems so fascinating! And believe me, it IS fascinating. When your cheese is ready, that vision of it melting over your homemade pizza is surely going to be worth all your efforts.
And I am sure with your new-found skills, you will be able to impress your kids, family or friends. For them, you will be no less than a superhuman who can turn any dish into a delicious treat by adding homemade cheese to it! Yummy!