Skip to main content

Cheese making basics

Now that we have lots of milk again, its time to make cheese!  At first Bella gave us about 12 L a day, but now Romeo is taking as much as he wants, we get about 2 L for Benny and a little extra for ourselves.  If we want more, we have to lock up Romeo overnight, more about share milking another day, I want to explain a bit about cheese, so just pretend I'm still getting lots of milk!  I use about 1 L a day to make either yoghurt or cream cheese, and we have a kefir smoothie every morning, but when we have more than 6 L in the fridge ..... its time to make cheese! (It you're losing track of our latest cow and calf situation, see my most recent update).

Before we got Bella we didn’t know anything about making cheese, so we bought a few cheese making books and went to a cheese making course.  We were pretty confident about making the cheese, but maturing and storing the cheese was more of a challenge, with some early attempts ending up covered in fluorescent moulds.  Finally we used our vacuum sealer to pack some of later cheeses, which seemed to work.  We also converted a bar fridge into a cheese-maturing fridge, which I will explain in more detail in a later post.

The difficult thing about cheese making is that it takes so long to mature, you don’t know if you've made a good cheese until 6-12 months after you made it.  We got a little disheartened and stopped making the cheeses after we had some much trouble with the crazy coloured moulds, but then after a few months when we tried the first one, we realised that it wasn't too bad.  We used raw milk for all our cheese, so it contained all the natural bacteria in the milk, which gives it a very strong flavour.  Its too strong to eat on crackers, so what I do is grate each block of cheese and put it in a bag in the freezer.  It is then perfect for sprinkling onto omelettes, pasta, pizza, salads etc. 

The funny thing was that, at first, we tried to make lots of different kinds of cheese, gouda, colby, cheddar, parmesan etc, and then when we ate them we found that they all tasted the same!  This is mainly because of our lack of process control, we don’t measure the pH and we are not at all accurate with temperature, stirring speed/time or curd size, so in the end everything comes out very similar.  Now that we know that it doesn't really matter what recipe we use, we are aiming to just find a really simple recipe so that we can make after work.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of cheese, those that use rennet and those that do not.  Rennet is a mixture of enzymes used to coagulate the milk, which causes it to split into curds and whey.  Rennet is used to make most hard cheeses, whereas soft cheeses can be coagulated by either adding an acid (lemon juice or citric acid) or letting the lactic acid forming bacteria grow and acidify the milk naturally.  I use the latter method to make cream cheese, I just add cheese culture and let it ferment for 24 hours at around 30°C.  Hard cheese is better for using up large volumes of milk and keeps for longer.

When making hard cheese, the first step is to heat the milk to the required temperature.  Most cheese making books recommend pasteurisation (heating to 70 °C to kill all the natural bacteria in the milk) and then cooling to the cheese making temperature, but we use our milk raw to preserve all the natural bacteria and enzymes, so we just heat it to cheese making temperature – 32 – 37 °C depending on the recipe. 

The next step is to add the cheese culture or starter.  Again this will depend on the recipe.  Commercial cheese makers would have a huge variety of cultures available, some make specially for the cheeses that they produce.  Home cheese-makers usually use mesophilic (medium temperature) or thermophilic (high temperature) cultures.  Recipes that call for the milk to be heated above 40 °C usually use the thermophilic culture.  After a tiny amount of culture is added to the warm milk, it can be left to ferment for a few minutes up to an hour.

The milk is then ready for the rennet to be added.  The usual rate is 2 mL of rennet for 10 L of milk, and the rennet is always diluted in 10 times the amount of cold water so that it will be evenly distributed in the milk.  The best technique is to start stirring the milk quite vigorously and then add the rennet, and keep stirring for between 1 and 3 minutes.  As discussed above, the rennet will then cause the milk to form a solid curd after standing for 30 min to 1 hours.

Once the curd has formed, its time to cut the curd.  Depending on the cheese, this may be into very small pieces to force out all the whey, or quite large pieces to keep the cheese soft.  For parmesan the curd is cut into rice-sized pieces, for brie, its more like 2 cm cubes.  Then commences the stirring and the heating.  This is to force even more whey from the curd, so very dry hard cheeses are heated and stirred more than soft cheeses.  For example, parmesan is heated to around 47 degC and stirred constantly for several hours, whereas one of my feta recipes says not to stir or heat the curd at all, just let it sit in the whey for an hour.  

When the curd is ready, it needs to be scooped out into a mould.  We have a few different sized moulds, they are just plastic tubes, with holes, and "followers", which a plastics discs cut to fit inside the tubes.  Usually the mould is lined with cheese cloth.  Some cheeses have some other steps at this stage - gouda requires the curd to be pressed in the mould in the pot of whey, and cheddar is cut and salt added before putting the curd in the mould.  At this stage the cheese may be pressed using a cheese press, or left to drain naturally.  A hard cheese requires more pressing to force out all the whey.  Pete made me a lovely cheese press from booker rod, wing nuts and springs, and it doubles as a frame to hang the cream cheese as well!

The cheese is usually turned a few times in the mould and then pressed overnight or for several hours anyway.  Then its ready to be salted or floated in brine for several hours and finally finally its time to age the cheese, either by waxing, wrapping or vacuum sealing the cheese.  And now you wait several months to find out how you cheese tastes :)

 Did that help?  Or just confuse you further?  Any questions?  Any favourite cheeses to make or eat?

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy


  1. I have made soft cheeses before which are very easy but the hard cheeses sound really complicated. I think that people who make hard cheeses are very skilled. I will be looking forward to reading some more on the processes and storage of your cheese. Maybe I might give it a go one day!

  2. Thanks for the interesting post and some useful information which I hope to come back to when I try making cheese for the first time.

  3. saw you on WTfab blog hop! would love for you to visit my blog too.
    this cheese info is awesome I've been to scared to make cheese

  4. That is neat that you are making cheese! I have made soft cheese but have yet to make hard cheese. That is on my to-do list when we are able to get enough milk again.

  5. I wonder how people prevented it going mouldy before fridges were invented. Cold store? Dig a big pit in the ground?

    Anyway, your cheesemaking adventures sound fun. I've only ever made soft cheeses, and felt somewhat suspicious about eating them. I think a cheesemaking course would do me good.

  6. (Of course, paying $6 for 2L of milk, I'm not likely to make much of my own cheese anyway.)

  7. Thanks everyone. Its really not that hard, just takes time and the right equipment. I'll have to post more later...

    Emma, I think people that made cheese were mainly in cooler climates and had cellars or cheese caves. It needs to be cool (12degC ish) and humid, so that the cheese doesn't dry out. We have set up a cheese fridge with a thermostat, but its really hard to get the conditions right. Unfortunately our hot humid climate in QLD is not really suited to unpowered cheese storage! I think warm climates probably used more soft cheese that you eat right away rather than store.


Post a Comment

Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at

Popular posts from this blog

How to make coconut yoghurt

Lately I have been cutting back on eating dairy.  I know, I know, we own two house cows!  But I am trying to heal inflammation (bad skin) and dairy is one of the possible triggers, so as a last resort and after much resistance, I decided I had better try to cut back.  Its been hard because I eat a LOT of cheese, and cook with butter, and love to eat yoghurt (and have written extensively about making yoghurt).  I had to just give up cheese completely, switch to macadamia oil and the only yoghurt alternative was coconut yoghurt.  I tried it and I like it, but only a spoonful on some fruit here and there because it is expensive!

The brand I can get here is $3 for 200 mL containers.  I was making yoghurt from powdered milk for about 50c/L.  So I was thinking there must be a way to make coconut yoghurt, but I didn't feel like mucking around and wasting heaps of coconut milk trying to get it right....  and then Biome Eco Store sent me a Mad Millie Coconut Yoghurt Kit to try.  The kit is…

What to do with eight acres

Behind the scenes of my blog I can see the search terms that led people to find my blog.  It can be quite interesting to look through them occasionally and see what people are looking for.  Most of them involve chicken tractors, but another question that comes up regularly is “what can you do with eight acres?” or “how much land is eight acres?”.  Today I will try to answer this question.

Of course it is a very broad question, there are lots and lots of things you can do with eight acres, but I’m going to assume that you want to live there, feed your family and maybe make a little extra money.  I make that assumption because that’s what I know about, if you want to do something else with your eight acres, you will need to look somewhere else.

If you haven’t chosen your land yet, here a few things to look for.  Focus on the things you can’t change and try to choose the best property you can find in your price range.  Look for clean water in dams, bores or wells, either on the property …

We don't have any cling wrap either

Last week I wrote about how we don't have a microwave and I really don't miss it.  So continuing the theme of "weird things about my kitchen", we also don't have any plastic cling wrap or paper towels.  And we haven't had them for so long I can hardly remember why we ever needed them.

I always thought that cling wrap was wasteful.  Not just from an environmental perspective, but I also didn't like spending money on something that I only used once.  When I was at uni and took sandwiches for lunch, I used to bring home the cling wrap and use it again until it didn't stick anymore.  One year when we did Plastic Free July (I can't remember when exactly - here's what I wrote last year) we decided to stop using cling wrap.  I used up the last of it recently when we were painting (its really hard to renovate without creating waste) - its handy for wrapping up paintbrushes and sealing paint temporarily, however I do not use it in the kitchen.

The pape…