Introduction: Basic Steps of How to Make Cheese

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This is a basic Instructable about how to make cheese. It isn't meant as a recipe but as a great way to familiarize yourself with the steps of this ancient craft. For specific recipes, check out some of my other Instructables or my book on home cheesemaking (Kitchen Creamery, Chronicle Books).

Step 1: Start With Fresh, Warm Milk

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The nicer and the fresher the milk you use, the more delicious your cheese will be. I like to buy my milk the same day I make it into cheese. To warm the milk, you can either get it still warm from the udder (in which case you need to be on a dairy farm) or you can transfer it from the fridge into a large pot and warm it slowly on the stovetop.

Step 2: Acidify the Milk

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There are many ways to make cheese but the first 'split in the road' is how you acidify the milk. One way is to dump acid (vinegar or citric acid) right into the milk to get the correct acidity. This process (called direct acidification) leads to cheeses such as ricotta and mascarpone. The other way to acidify the milk is to add cultures, or living bacteria. Given time, warmth and lack of competitor bacteria, these cultures will eat up the lactose in the milk, turning it into lactic acid.

Step 3: Add a Coagulant

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The most common coagulant is rennet, the name for an enzyme which causes the proteins in milk to link together. However, the word 'rennet' is a bit vague. Rennet can mean a 'traditional rennet' which comes from an animal stomach. It can mean a 'bacterial' rennet, sometimes also euphemistically called 'vegetable rennet' which comes from recombinant bacteria (using DNA from veal calf stomach cells). Or rennet can come from a fungus ('microbial' rennet). Using the more general and accurate term 'coagulant', we can add in 'plant' coagulants which might be sap from a fig tree or a milk thistle.

Mix the coagulant into the liquid milk and wait until a gel forms.

Step 4: Test for Gel Firmness

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When you've given the rennet enough time to work on the proteins in the milk, the milk will transform from a liquid into a gel. You can test the 'doneness' of the gel by pressing (with a clean hand) onto the surface of the milk.

Step 5: Cut the Curd

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The next step is now to cut the curd down from a giant blob into smaller cubes or chunks. You can do this with a 'cheese harp', with a knife or even with a whisk. The size to which you cut the curds will dramatically effect the amount of moisture retained in your final cheese; the smaller the initial pieces, the drier (and more ageable) the cheese will be. And vice versa.

Step 6: Stir, Cook & Wash the Curd

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For the next several minutes or even hour (depending on the recipe), you'll stir the curds in the vat. Possibly, you'll turn on the heat and cook the curds while you stir. During this phase, the most important thing that is happening is acid is continuing to develop inside the curd and, from the motion of your stirring, the curds are drying out. The more you cook and the more you stir, the drier your cheese will be.

Washing is the process of removing some of the whey from the vat and replacing it with water. This creates a milder, sweeter, more elastic cheese and cheese paste.

Step 7: Drain the Curds

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Finally, it's time to separate the curds from the whey. You might do this nearly final step by simply dumping the contents of the pot into a colander in a sink. You might wait 10 minutes to let the curds settle to the bottom then press the curds together at the bottom of the pot before bringing them up and out of the pot in chunks. Generally, we work quickly at this point in the process because we want to conserve the heat into the curds, encouraging them to mush back together to form a nice smooth wheel. If we wait too long, the curds get cold and the cheese falls apart.

Step 8: Salt and Age the Cheese

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Once the curds have been separated from the whey, you can add salt. Or, you can move the curds into their final forms (or baskets) and press the cheese into a wheel before salting. If a cheese is salted, properly acidified and has the correct amount of moisture inside, it can be aged into something more complex. Or it can be eaten immediately--the same moment it was made.

For more in-depth information on the ways to make cheese, you can read my book on home cheesemaking, called Kitchen Creamery. It's available through Chronicle Books and has more details on cheesemaking then you ever thought possible!

Comments

JonathanB314 (author)2017-03-20

Here me out - my girlfriend has a vicious auto immune disease and animal proteins and glutens attack her. I'm a retired chef and I am going to work on making cheese from other proteins. Any idea the protein, carb, fat content of the milk before molds are introduced???

Santi2017 (author)JonathanB3142017-03-23

Try making the cheese from goat's milk. Goat milk has a a2 type protein and has been proven to be hypoallergenic.

DanaD52 (author)2016-11-20

awesome simple steps tysm!

JagadeeshK13 (author)2016-09-28

Nice information Thanks

joeywood (author)2016-07-26

Thank you! This is very helpful for someone just trying to get a grasp of where to start.

Making history (author)2016-05-19

haha

Making history (author)2016-05-19

I am trying to make cheese in the wilderness with milk any advice if I have no stove pan or etc?

AksR1 (author)2016-05-11

Good for school

rose saunders (author)2016-01-16

I am desperate to make lactose free cheese for my lactose intolerant grandson - does anyone know if this will work with lactose free milk?

tricialb (author)rose saunders2016-05-08

My son is the same way. We've found that harder cheeses (cheeses that have been aged longer) and cheese made out of goats milk work the best for him.

Esque (author)rose saunders2016-04-28

My partner is lactose intolerant and we discovered that if you get the most aged cheddar (Possibly other hard cheeses as well, but we never tested that) that has preferably been made with unpasteurised milk, there's so little lactose left in it that it doesn't cause problems. This at least will give you an option to buy some cheese. I would recommend trying small amounts first though

most hard cheeses have very little lactose as it has all been converted to lactic acid there are a few lactose intolerant people that cannot eat cheese without a dietary helper like lactaid if a hard cheese is aged more than three months there should be almost no lactose in it.

Try to make cheese with KEFIR. Kefir is a kind of yogurt where the lactose is turned into acid.

ilinaika (author)2016-04-30

Was learning cheese making -feta and mozzarella kind -from native Nomadic cultures in Caucas Mountains - important thing to add some salt BEFORE warming up milk in first step. It improves milk reaction to Rennet (any) and if cheese intended to be eaten fresh this is a must. In case of planned keeping it longer (overwinter) more salt added in the end, often they keep it in bitter salty brine.

belsey (author)2016-04-29

Very nice overview with beautiful pictures! It's nice to learn about the big picture before delving into the specifics of one recipe.

Gadget93 (author)2016-04-29

This is beautiful.

Maggs♍️ (author)2016-04-28

Thank you for your post. I have always wanted to make soft cheeses - Love them I will be making cheese this weekend.

qawsedefgyuk (author)2016-03-31

nice

pachytrance (author)2015-12-29

Thanks for sharing

MikeS43 (author)2015-12-29

This looks yummy and easy to make. I can't wait to cut the cheese!!!

CopterRichie (author)2015-01-18

Thank you for this instructable, is very hard to get RAW milk where I live, will any of these cheese making processes work with pasteurize mike?

thank you.

cfuse (author)CopterRichie2015-01-19

I live in Australia, where raw milk products are totally banned, and there are two ways that people get around that ban that I'm aware of:

1) Keep a milking animal or have reasonable access to one. This is not possible for most people. I've seen goats kept in the city, but it's pretty much an open invitation for constant harassment from the local authorities.

2) There's a product here called "Cleopatra's Milk" which is nothing more than unpasteurised cow's milk. It is sold as a cosmetic product, thereby dodging the food rules entirely.

I have used pasteurized milk from the market but it cannot be ultra-pasteurized. It is getting harder to find dairy products that are not ultra-pasteurized.

thank you.

HandiGirl (author)2015-01-19

Well, when I saw your instructable, I almost fell off my chair. My Father was obsessed with the idea to make cheese. We had raw milk, we lived on a dairy farm. We, my Mother, myself and others tried to endure the cheese making days, and our house, "stank" of decaying and sour milk products. We, also, made homemade butter....pounds of it. Even to this day, when friends or family say "would you like to try my homemade butter?" the screen door is hitting the back of my sandals as I sprint towards my car....the stench of those homemade products will make me vomit, the smell is still stuck in my nostrils....However, I examined your shared recipe and instructable and I wish I could have sent a copy of your approach to my father. However, it is too late, he died over 25 years ago.....and, no!, it wasnot the homemade butter, icecream and/or cheese to be the culprit. Thankyou for sharing!

cfuse (author)HandiGirl2015-01-19

There's nothing quite like childhood trauma of parental obsession to ruin an activity for you. You can really miss out on genuinely good things just because the negative conditioning is so entrenched.

snoop911 (author)2015-01-16

Any tips for making Roquefort cheese?

I know to be certified Roquefort it has to be grown in France, but what about a DIY non-certified version. For example, could you take some fungus ( Penicillium roqueforti) from an existing Roquefort cheese, and use it as a starter culture for a new batch of cheese? Substituting goat/cow milk for the traditional (hard-to-find) sheep milk? Would that work (assuming you let it ripen for a several months)?

wdgandy (author)snoop9112015-01-18

I've used 'donor' cheese to culture homemade cheese. I made two soft, brie type cheeses and used ones i bought from a cheese store- and really enjoyed- to make my culture. I put clean milk in a sterile jar and added a bit of the donor cheese. I used a bit from inside the cheese to avoid any surface contamination. I shook the jar to mix and left it overnight until i made my cheese the following afternoon. Both cheeses turned out really nicely. I had the nice white bloom like all good brie and had a nice creamy texture and flavor. They didn't taste exactly like the donor, but were close enough and still very good. I used no other cultures.

gecko_girl3 (author)snoop9112015-01-18

I'm no expert, not remotely close. So please forgive me if this is way off, but it was my understanding that traditionally blue cheese comes from cows milk, Gorgonzola comes from goats milk, and Roquefort comes from sheep milk.

CopterRichie (author)2015-01-18

This would be a great topic for DIY videos as well as the book. Great Job!

clewis21 (author)2015-01-18

Pretty cool!

fasteddy999 (author)2015-01-18

I have been making soft cheese for Christmas presents for years. I am now ready to graduate to hard cheese. I am building a cheese press and hope to start producing very soon.

throbscottle (author)2015-01-18

I once made cheese out of milk that had gone off (gone lumpy, in fact) in the sun. Interesting to see how to do it properly. Nice 'ible, easy to understand.

rhkramer (author)2015-01-18

Thanks--very nice overview of the cheese making process! If I ever want or have to make cheese, I'd start by reading this (and probably buy your book).

overcomer8 (author)2015-01-16

Thanks awesome!

Chris-Q (author)2015-01-15

Great stuff! We have made queso fresco at the house (with and without dill) and loved how fun and rewarding it was. Thanks for a great resource to learn about different methods to try!

sabu.dawdy (author)2015-01-14

such an interesting ible

Rachael K (author)2015-01-14

Oh I love this!! Cheese has been on my to-do list for a long time. Great instructable! :)

lancashiremon101 (author)2015-01-14

fantastic, I was thinking about trying to make my own cheese and had just started to research methods. This 'ible was just what I needed. Thanks, can't wait to get started.

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Bio: I am a cheesemaker and author of Kitchen Creamery, a book on home cheesemaking. I love to make, grow, harvest and enjoy all types of ... More »
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