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What Is Citric Acid, and How Is It Used in Cheesemaking?

Making cheese at home is a fun and delicious kitchen project. But some cheesemaking ingredients, such as citric acid, can be hard to find.

Citric acid is an organic acid that’s found in citrus and other fruits. It makes home cheesemaking recipes for fresh Italian cheeses like mozzarella, mascarpone, and whole-milk ricotta quick and easy. Here’s more on why citric acid is used in cheesemaking, where you can buy it, and our favorite home cheesemaking kit.

Why Citric Acid Is Used in Cheesemaking

overhead view of milk, cut lemon, and bowl of cheesecloth and cheese curds n wooden counter

In cheesemaking, the milk must increase in acidity before it can be coagulated into curd. In traditional recipes, starter cultures like Lactobacillus consume the lactose in milk and convert it into lactic acid, which lowers the pH of the milk, increasing its acidity. However, this requires specialized equipment to keep the milk at a specific temperature for a period of time.

In recipes for fresh Italian cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta, we sometimes use a shortcut to lower the pH the milk without culturing it by adding acid directly to the milk. 

Cheeses made using citric acid rather than fermentation are called “quick-set” recipes because the time it takes to acidify and coagulate the milk is reduced with this ingenious shortcut. (Don’t worry—the tin amount of citric acid won’t change the flavor of your cheese.)

Because powdered citric acid is more consistent than lemon juice or vinegar, it’s often called for in home cheesemaking recipes. Adding citric acid to milk instantly adjusts the pH so that it’s ready for rennet, in the case of mozzarella and burrata. In whole milk ricotta, the combination of acid and heat works to coagulate the curds without rennet.

Where to Buy Citric Acid for Cheesemaking

overhead view of wheel of homemade ricotta salata on white plate

You can purchase citric acid for cheesemaking from online sources as well as many homebrew supply stores and some Indian food stores, where it may be labeled as “sour salt.” It’s also included in many home cheesemaking kits.

Home Cheesemaking Kits

overhead view of home cheesemaking kit with labeled bags of salt, citric acid, rennnet, and tools for cheesemaking

An easy way to get all the special ingredients and gear you need for home cheesemaking in one easy purchase is to buy a cheesemaking kit. These affordable options bundle hard-to-find ingredients like citric acid and rennet with equipment like ricotta baskets, cheesecloth, and milk thermometers in one convenient package.

We love the Farmsteady Italian Fresh Cheesemaking Kit because it includes everything you need to make cheese at home. Plus, we at Cheese Grotto provide you with several recipes you can make with this easy, convenient kit. All you need to get started is a gallon of fresh, high-quality milk.

Have you tried making cheese at home with citric acid? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!

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