Cooking Basics

How to make cheese at home

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Sticking your hands in a vat of curds may be very therapeutic
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Learning how to make cheese in your own kitchen is rewarding but labor intensive

Earth mother or father that you are, you have decided to make cheese at home. First, you must learn how to make cheese, from start to finish, so that you don't begin a culinary adventure that you do not have the patience, or skills, to complete.

Follow these recommendations by Dr. David B. Fankhauser, professor of biology and chemistry at the University of Cincinnati, Clermont College in Batavia, Ohio and learn how to make cheese at home.  

The process of making cheese at home may appear to be simple, but you will need skills that you can only develop with practice to get really good at this undertaking. It also takes patience. Cheese is not made overnight. Making cheese at home is a labor intensive effort.

You will need a non-reactive pot because acidifying milk can dissolve an aluminum pot. The pan should have a heavy bottom so that heat is dispersed evenly, and no scorching occurs, which alters the flavor of the cheese.  

The pot should be large enough that you have an inch of space above the milk once it has been poured into the pot. You will also need a cover for your pot, which you use when the milk is resting.  

Get out your measuring cups and a thermometer that reads from 32 degrees C to 225 degrees F (or zero to 100 degrees C.) A whisk is necessary for mixing the starter and rennet.

Cheese cloth is required because it will be used to catch the curd and allow the whey to drain. A cheese press is a must if you are making a hard cheese.

You first select milk, which can be goat milk, raw cow milk or sheep or horse milk or pasteurized homogenized cow milk such as you would get at the store. The richness of your cheese depends to a great extent on the amount of butterfat that is in the milk. Ideally, you will get one- to 1.5 pounds of cheese per gallon of milk.


If you use unpasteurized milk, the cheese should be cured for two to four months if there is a concern about pathogens in the milk. When you use pasteurized milk you may have to add some calcium chloride, which firms up the curd. The reason you need to add calcium chloride is because calcium is removed from the solution during pasteurization. Calcium chloride is essential when it comes to coagulation and the creation of curd, which makes the product stick together and prevent it from falling apart when you stir it.

Add 3.6g of calcium chloride to five gallons of pasteurized milk.  Dissolve the calcium completely in one-fourth cup of water before adding it to the milk. When you add it to the milk, add it slowly and stir thoroughly.

Bacteria are added because the milk has to be acidified in order for the rennet (an enzyme) to work. Bacteria also aid in curing. You can use cultured buttermilk as a starter or yogurt. Alternatively, you can buy pure cultures from cheese supply houses and cheese makers.  

You will need to purchase rennet, which can be found in the pudding section in the grocery store. This is an enzyme that converts casein, which is milk protein, from a soluble in an insoluble material that makes the milk gel. Rennet only works in acidified milk and the process must be undisturbed in order for a clean break to occur. One tablet of rennet is equal to 20 drops of fresh liquid rennet.


To make a basic hard cheese that works with any kind of milk follow these directions. You should end up with a five or six pound wheel of cheese when using five gallons of milk.

Ingredients include: one cup of live culture yogurt; one tablet of rennet and one-fourth cup of salt; Needed equipment includes a six inch by nine inch pressing frame made from a tin can or PVC pipe. Remove the ends of the pipe. A circular block of wood called a follower, which is 5.5 inches in diameter; a five gallon canner; a large dinner plate; a non-terry cloth dish cloth which is clean; a rubber band cut from an inner tube.

The night before you start making the cheese, sterilize the pot. Warm the five gallons of milk to 20 degrees C or 68 degrees F in the sterile pot. Skim the cream off of the milk.  

Blend together two cups of the warmed milk with one cup of yogurt and stir into the five gallons of warmed milk. This is the starter.

Let the inoculated milk sit at room temperature overnight. Put a sterilized lid on the pot.

The next morning slowly warm the milk to 30 degrees C or 86 degrees F.

Dissolve the rennet table in one half cup of cold water. If you are using liquid rennet add one teaspoon per five gallons of milk. Stir the milk and rennet together and then let this mixture sit undisturbed from one to three hours.

Test to see if you can get a clean break, which means the rennet action is complete. Stick your finger into the gelled milk and lift. If it is not firm enough to split cleanly let the milk sit awhile longer but do not stir. This process could take a few more hours.  

When you have achieved a clean break, use a long blade to cut the curd. Start the cut at one edge of the pot and cut straight down the side to the bottom of the pot. Keep doing this, cutting parallel to the first cut, but increasing the angle of the knife until you reach the other side of the pot.  

At this point, rotate the pot 90 degrees and repeat this series of cuts.

Allow the curds to sit for 15 minutes, remembering to pour off any excessive whey. Turn the burner on low and cook the curds, stirring frequently and thoroughly with your hands. Reach all the way to the bottom of the pot and lift the curds. Do not squeeze or mash up the curds. The heat should be 34 degrees C or 95 degree F if you want soft curd cheese or 39 degrees C or 102 degrees F if you desire firm cheese. When the curd develops the consistency of firm scrambled eggs remove it from the heat.

Let the curds sit for a few minutes. The curds should sink in whey. If they are floating that means you had a gas-producing contaminant in your starter. Use a strainer to decant off the whey. Pour off as much whey as you can.

Put the curds in a bowl and salt them using one fourth cup of salt, mixing in the salt. If there is more accumulated whey, pour it off. Salt is needed so the cheese does not spoil when it is curing.

Load your cheese press with the curds. The curds must be warm, or else they will not form a solid cheese when pressing. Let the curds sit in the press for 12 hours. The next morning, remove the cheese from the press, pat salt on the outside of the cheese and then wrap the cheese in a sterile bandage. Put the wrapped cheese on a plastic or stainless steel tray and put it in your refrigerator.  

Each day, put a new bandage on the cheese as long as the cheese is wet. Remember to turn the cheese so that it evenly dries.

After two or three weeks, the cheese will form a dry yellow rind. Dip the cheese into melted wax. This is called waxing the cheese. Put the cheese back in the refrigerator for a month. If you want sharp cheese leave it in the refrigerator for longer than a month.

Resources: - Biology department

Cheese making tips

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