Milk for Cheesemaking

It seems as if more and more people these days are pursuing the culinary arts in their homes and going back to the way that things were done before supermarkets, cross country freezer and refrigeration vans, and mass production from factory farms. People are growing more of their own fruits and vegetables, raising backyard chickens, brewing their own beer and wine and even making their own cheese.

In our great-grandparents time, people grew up learning how to do these things as a matter of their everyday lives in their homes. To them, making cheese didn’t seem like a complicated and mysterious process but instead was just one of the life skills that they naturally acquired. Most of us would be lost these days if faced with having to create a block of cheese in our own kitchens and wouldn’t have a clue about where to begin.

Cheese begins, of course, with milk. Any milk at all can be used to make cheese. I’ve even heard that the best mozzarella cheese comes from the milk of water buffaloes, though that’s probably a bit difficult for the average person to obtain. Cows milk, goats milk, sheeps milk, and mare milk are all used in the production of cheese. The milk from yaks and camels are used in some parts of the world.

It’s suggested that for safety reasons that the milk always be pasteurized. If you’ve purchased raw milk, pasteurization can be done at home by heating the milk for one half hour at 143 F. Some specialty stores also sell non-homogenized pasteurized milk.

Milk from different mammals make different types of cheeses. Goats milk is considered to be the healthiest choice by some because it is closest to human milk and is also quite low in potassium. But there are some varieties of cheese that can’t be made from it, such as mozzarella and cheddar. Cows milk is actually the most versatile kind of milk to use and may be what the beginner would be best starting out with.

Cream cheese is a good project for the novice cheese-maker to begin with. It can be made with the equipment that most people already have in their home kitchens. Whole milk, buttermilk, whipping cream, salt (if desired) and something called a rennet tablet are the ingredients that you will need in order to create a simple but delicious homemade cream cheese. Pizza cheese is also easy and fun to make, and there’s nothing quite like eating a pizza with home baked crust topped with fresh tomatoes from your own garden and with cheese that you’ve prepared yourself in your own kitchen.

Rennet is a group of enzymes present in the stomach of milk producing mammals, and can be a bit difficult to find in the average supermarket. Whole Foods usually carries it, as do a lot of specialty cheese making suppliers. A simple online search will bring up several possibilities the purchase of rennet. It is available in both liquid and tablet form.

My suggestion to the aspiring cheese makers out there is that you begin with the soft cheeses mentioned above, or try your hand at making mozzarella. After that, you will no doubt be hooked on this satisfying activity and go on to build your craft from there. And by all means, involve your children if you have them. Their great-grandchildren will appreciate it.