If you’re reading this, you probably believe, like we do, that eating cheese is one of life’s great pleasures. But making your own cheese at home? That takes the deliciousness to a whole new level.
Luckily, cheesemaking at home is pretty easy to do, and it offers the satisfaction of a job well done that you’ll never get from hitting up the cheese shop. You just need some good milk, a few special ingredients, and basic supplies you probably already have in your kitchen. Here’s everything you need to know about cheesemaking at home.
What Kind of Cheese Can You Make at Home?
Before we dive into the details of home cheesemaking, let’s look at the kinds of cheese that are easy to make at home. Unless you have a consistently cool root cellar or a wine fridge with adjustable temperature on hand, you’re going to want to skip aged cheeses–soft-ripened types, cheddars, Alpines, goudas, and the like.
That’s because these cheeses need to age for anywhere from a few weeks to several months in a controlled environment with very specific humidity and temperature conditions. (While the Cheese Grotto helps your cheese stay supple and moist thanks to its humidifying clay brick, most homes don’t have a place in the 45°F-60°F temperature range needed to age cheese.)
Because aging at home can be so tricky and requires special gear, we’re going to focus on making fresh cheeses at home. They’re incredibly simple and delicious—not to mention fast, since there’s no aging time!
Fresh cheeses that are great candidates for home cheesemaking include Italian cheeses like quick-set mozzarella, whole-milk ricotta, and mascarpone as well as queso blanco and paneer. With any of these types, you can go from milk to finished cheese in an hour or so. Chevre needs an overnight culture, but it’s also very easy. Feta is another great option: although it needs several days to age in a salt brine, this process can be done at usual refrigerator temperatures.
Before you stock up on supplies and ingredients, you’ll want to choose the recipe you’ll use to make your home cheesemaking debut. Check out this list of all our home cheesemaking recipes, arranged from super-duper easy to slightly more complicated but still quite simple:
Choose your recipe, peruse the ingredients and equipment needed, and read on for more info on how to make cheese.
What Do You Need to Make Cheese?
You probably have most if not all of the most basic home cheesemaking gear in your kitchen right now:
- Large, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot
- Stainless steel spoon or silicone spatula
- Fine mesh strainer
- Heatproof bowl
- Measuring cups and spoons
Pretty self-explanatory, right? However, there are some specialized pieces of equipment and supplies you’ll want to have on hand for several of our fresh cheesemaking recipes:
A digital instant-read model is ideal, but a well-calibrated analog milk thermometer can also work in a pinch.
This thin, single-use cotton is great for draining whey from cheese.
You’ve probably seen specialty ricotta packaged in these small, round, basket-shaped cheese molds.
Conical, hard plastic molds for shaping and draining fresh or lightly aged French-style goat cheeses.
You can pick up these specialized items online, at kitchen supply stores, or at online cheesemaking supply shops like New England Cheesemaking Supply and Cultures for Health. Or pick up one of our Farmsteady Fresh Cheesemaking Kits, which includes a thermometer, cheesecloth, and basket in addition to ingredients and recipes all in one package.
It’s important to note that sanitation is paramount when making cheese. All of your equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before use, and your hands kept scrupulously clean, during the process.
In terms of ingredients for cheesemaking at home, here’s what you need:
Cow’s milk is easiest to find, but goat’s milk will work, too. You can start with raw milk if it’s legal in your state (these recipes heat milk to pasteurization temperatures), or go with pasteurized, which is much easier to find. Just don’t use ultra-pasteurized (UHT) milk or cream, which won’t coagulate properly.
Our recipes are developed using kosher salt, but sea salt or specialized cheese salt will also work. Just make sure it’s non-iodized salt.
Citric acid, lemon juice, or vinegar
Our recipes for mozzarella, mascarpone, paneer, and ricotta use direct acidification rather than fermentation in the cheesemaking process. Different recipes require different acids, and citric acid tends to be the hardest to find. Buy it online or from a South Asian grocery store (or just grab our kit, which includes citric acid).
Recipes like chevre use bacterial starter cultures to kickstart fermentation. Get the cultures specified in our recipe from New England Cheesemaking or Cultures for Health.
Our feta and buttermilk ricotta recipes also use cultures—but rather than packets of powder, we get that culture from easy-to-find premade buttermilk. If you don’t want to invest in cultures just yet, try out these recipes first.
Our recipes for mozzarella, chevre, and feta call for rennet, an enzyme that coagulates the casein protein in milk, in different forms (tablets and liquid). Our Farmsteady kit contains rennet tablets needed for mozz, while you can purchase the liquid rennet needed for other recipes from New England Cheesemaking.
We add a bit of this to our feta brine to help the cheese keep its shape while it cures in the fridge.
While some of these ingredients aren’t stocked in most supermarkets, you can absolutely make cheese at home using supplies that are easy to source. Look for more specialized items like cultures, rennet, and calcium chloride at well-stocked kitchen supply stores, homebrew shops, or online.
What Are the Steps to Making Cheese?
OK—you’ve picked out your recipe and gathered your gear and ingredients. Before we dive in, let’s talk about what cheesemaking actually entails.
The goal of cheesemaking is to capture the solids in milk—mostly fat and protein, with some minerals and lactose (milk sugar)—while leaving behind most of the liquid. Here’s how that happens.
The milk must be warmed—gently in the case of cheeses like mozzarella and chevre, nearly to boiling for paneer and queso blanco—to prepare it for subsequent steps.
Adding acid directly—or by adding starter cultures, which will consume the lactose in milk and turn it into lactic acid—is an essential step in making cheese as well as other cultured dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, and creme fraiche. Direct acidification with vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid happens in just a few minutes, while acidification by fermentation can take several hours or overnight.
For paneer, queso blanco, mascarpone, and ricotta, the combination of acid and heat is enough to separate the milk into curds and whey. For mozzarella, chevre, and feta, we add rennet to help with this process and create a drier curd. Once it’s coagulated, the curd will be a solid mass but still soft and bouncy, kind of like milk Jell-O.
Once it’s coagulated, the curd can be hooped directly into draining bags or cheese forms, or it may be cut into smaller pieces to help expel more whey. When making firm, dry cheeses, the curds may be stirred or heated further to firm them up and pull out even more liquid.
Once the curds are ready, the whey is drained off. This can happen in a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth (for cheeses like paneer and queso blanco), in a cheese basket (for ricotta), or in a muslin bag or small cheese forms (chevre and feta).
If applicable, the drained curds are then hooped (placed into cheese forms) to take shape and finish draining.
While none of the cheese recipes on our site are for aged styles, this is the point at which aged cheeses would go into the cool, humid environment of the cheese cave to age. However, our feta recipe does include a brining step, which does require a short period of aging in salt brine in your refrigerator.
Home Cheesemaking Classes
With the right gear, a few basic ingredients, simple recipes, and this background knowledge, you’re ready to start making cheese at home!
But if you feel more confident with an expert demonstration, no worries—we’ve got you covered! Sign up for one of our virtual cheesemaking classes and our expert instructors will walk you through delicious home cheesemaking recipes over Zoom, step by step. Each ticket includes a home cheesemaking kit, so you’ll have all the ingredients you need to get started except the milk.
We even have a virtual halloumi cheesemaking class coming up on June 27—perfectly timed for grilling season. Or, if you want to practice your mozzarella stretching technique before making your own (and drink some great wine in the process), join us for our new Sip & Stretch virtual mozzarella class on July 18th. We ship you the frozen curd with an option to purchase wine—all you have to do is thaw, heat, and stretch.
Looking to do a cheesemaking class as a group? We do private cheesemaking classes for families, friends, and businesses, too. They’re a great way to have fun, learn something new, and connect with folks from afar. Plus, you can enjoy the delicious finished product when you’re all done.
Have you made cheese at home? Which recipes are you excited to try? Tag us @cheesegrotto in your homemade cheese pics on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!