Cheese Cultures which cultures work best and why

To ensure the best results at home using a quality cheese culture is necessary. Ripened milk is used to form cheese and this process is best controlled by introducing a cheese culture. Cow, goat and sheep milk can all be successfully used for cheese making. Different types of milk are more suited to making specific types of cheeses. Raw milk will begin to culture on its own but the results are often less than desirable. Ultra-pasteurized milk does not work at all for cheese making. The extreme heat during the ultra-pasteurization breaks down the properties of milk too far to be of use in cheese making.

There are many cheese cultures available today. Each culture contains at least one strain of bacteria isolated from a specific type of cheese. These cultures can last for several years when kept frozen, months when kept at room temperature. Choosing to use cultures that are being maintained in their purest form is best. Be aware that small amounts of maltodextrin, generally derived from corn, and yeast hulls are added to the strain as a food source for the re-activated bacteria.

Each cheese culture falls in to one of two categories: Mesophilic or Thermophilic. Mesophilic cultures are the most common. They are used to make familiar cheeses such as Feta, Cottage cheese, Farmers cheese, Colby, Cheddar and Brie. Dairy products such as cultured buttermilk and sour cream are also started with Mesophilc cultures. These cultures are warm cultures meaning the temperature of the milk during the cheese making process never reaches above 102 degrees.

Thermophilic cultures are hot cultures that thrive in temperatures up to 130 degrees. It is the Thermophilic culture that is responsible for most Italian cheeses including parmesan, provolone and mozzarella. Yogurt can also be started with a Thermophilic culture.

Many cheese cultures are available in two forms: as a direct vat inoculant, also known as a direct set, or as reculturable. Direct set cultures need only to be added to the milk at the proper time to begin making cheeses. This is the best way to start making cheese at home and is perfect for those who will not be making cheese on a daily basis. These types of cultures are available in many different strains, allowing a wide variety of homemade cheeses to be made.

A mother culture can be used for multiple batches of cheese however, this method is more difficult. The mother culture must first itself be cultured in milk before using in actual cheese making. A small amount from each batch is saved in either the refrigerator or the freezer to start the next batch of culture. Consistency is very hard to maintain when using a mother culture as time and even improperly preparing the mother culture will weaken the strain.