Cheesemaking is a very rewarding hobby. It can be time consuming but all of your effort will be worth it once you have your first bite of perfectly aged parmesan or whichever type of cheese you choose to make. You can make cheese from any kind of animal milk. Cow, Goat and Sheep milk are the most popular kinds of milk to use in Cheesemaking. Although people have made cheese out of yak, water buffalo and even horse milk. You can obtain this milk by raising goats or sheep or you can buy the milk from other people who raise these animals. You can also buy this milk from the supermarket. Okay so you understand that you will need milk to make cheese, but lets go through some of the other basic materials you will need.
Milk, sourced from wherever you like. You will need about 2.5 to 3 gallons to make a decent sized 6″ diameter wheel of hard cheese. You’ll need less of it for soft cheeses like chèvre and yogurt as these will retain more water in them, unlike the hard cheeses which have much of the water pushed out so you are only left with fat and milk solids. If you buy this milk from the store, make sure it is not Ultrapasteurized as these tend not to curdle or coagulate properly. If it just says “Pasteurized” that will be fine. Raw Milk can also be used if you prefer to make Raw Milk cheese but precautions must be taken to keep everything clean and assure that the milk is or was not contaminated.
A Large Pot, you will need one of these that will hold at least 3 gallons of milk or more. I use a cheap 3 gallon pot from Family Dollar which I purchased for $10 or $15. It only fits 2.5 gallons of milk and one must be careful not the burn the milk in it, since the bottom is so thin. I must always keep a close eye when warming up the milk in this pot. If you are worried about burning the milk, make sure to get a pot with a thicker bottom. Heat is distributed more evenly in these types of pots and the temperature change is not as drastic as it would be in a thinner bottomed pot.
A Slotted Spoon, Use this to separate curds from weigh. I also use this for general stirring, incorporating cultures, enzymes, etc.
A Thermometer, Temperature is very important when making cheese. Certain steps of the cheese making process require a certain temperature. Too high of a temperature will kill your bacteria, too low and your bacteria make never be activated properly and your cheese will not age well. Candy thermometers that you can hang on the side of your pot are very popular for cheese making. Although most meat thermometers will do. You probably won’t need a thermometer that reads over 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cultures, Cultures are what make the cheese. This is the bacteria we add to the milk during the cheese making process. This bacteria feeds on the milk producing acids which change the chemical structure of the cheese, a lot of fermentation and other things go on to make that curdled milk into a proper cheese. There are two main types of cultures in cheese making Thermophilic, used in hard cheeses like Parmesan and Romano and Mesophilic, used in softer cheese such as Chèvre and Feta. The difference between these types of cultures is the temperature in which they are activated. Thermophilic cultures like higher temperatures than Mesophilic cultures.
Rennet, This is what causes your milk to coagulate or curdle. Rennet can be purchased in liquid or tablet form and it can be animal or vegetable-based. I prefer to use the liquid form as it is easier to work with that chopping up tablets but both produce the same results when used in the proper amounts.
Enzymes, Enzymes sold under names such as Lipase, Caprilase or Italase are all optional but can make a world of difference when it comes to flavor. These tend to give cheese a stronger flavor by breaking down the fat within the cheese faster. They will also cause your cheese to ripen faster. In my experience a wheel of cheddar that usually requires 3 months to age, can be ready in a month to a month in a half if some Caprilase is added during the cheese making process.
So now that you have the basics down, check out the recipes section for some details on how to make a few varieties of cheese.