Basic Steps of How to Make Cheese

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About: 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 food but fermented foods in particular. Sourdough, miso, pickles, chocolat...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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    41 Discussions

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    David BudiW

    Question 4 months ago on Step 2

    in 2nd phase is it already split? whey n curd?

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    maherelmasri1965

    Question 9 months ago on Introduction

    what is the best way to make chese strechy l want it to make adessert called kenafeh it must be unsalted and strechy the measure is one gallon

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    JonathanB314

    1 year ago

    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???

    1 reply
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    Santi2017JonathanB314

    Reply 1 year ago

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

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    DanaD52

    1 year ago

    awesome simple steps tysm!

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    JagadeeshK13

    2 years ago

    Nice information Thanks

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    joeywood

    2 years ago

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

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    Making history

    2 years ago

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

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    AksR1

    2 years ago

    Good for school

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    rose saunders

    2 years ago

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

    4 replies
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    tricialbrose saunders

    Reply 2 years ago

    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.

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    Esquerose saunders

    Reply 2 years ago

    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

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    feralmonkey4rose saunders

    Reply 2 years ago

    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.

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    Salim AnthonyJferalmonkey4

    Reply 2 years ago

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

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    ilinaika

    2 years ago

    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.

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    belsey

    2 years ago

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

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    Gadget93

    2 years ago

    This is beautiful.

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    Maggs♍️

    2 years ago

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