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In addition to milk and vinegar, there is another major ingredient used in making milk. Starter is a compilation of bacteria that helps develop the cheese and give it that distinctive cheese flavor. Different microorganisms can produce different flavors. While fresh whole milk contains its own bacteria that can turn the milk to cheese, it can also contain some harmful microorganisms that are easily killed by pasteurization. Then the starter can be added to put back in the beneficial bacteria without any of the harmful variety.
Once the starter is added, it takes some time for the bacteria to get to work and make the change from milk to cheese. Sometimes the starter used is cultured buttermilk, but this can provide inconsistent results. It is best to use something like a mesophilic starter specifically sold for cheese making. It comes in a small packet of powder, similar to the way yeast is sold. Direct Vac Innoculation (DVI) is a form that is poured into the milk without any pre-culturing and is most recommended for the beginning cheese maker.
For a firm cheese, it is recommended to use rennet in addition to the starter. Rennet is an enzyme derived from calf stomachs that hardens the cheese.
With these simple ingredients, almost anyone can make their own cheese with surprisingly delicious results. But just like with home canning and other in-home procedures, cheese making must be done with proper sanitation.
Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can dwell on surfaces for days at a time. Cheese making relies on the culturing, or growth, of certain bacteria and any other microorganisms that are in the ingredients or on the tools will also grow. Culturing harmful bacteria in the cheese could make someone very sick.
Everything that comes in contact with the cheese must be properly sterilized. A bleach solution of a capful of bleach in a rinsed sink half full of water should work to clean pots, bowls, utensils, and other items used in cheese making. Or, small tools that are made of stainless steel can be passed through the flames of the stove to kill anything living.
Once safety is ensured and the appropriate ingredients put together for making cheese at home, cheese making can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. Recipes can be found online or in many cookbooks and the results can be phenomenal. So if you decide to make your own at home, don’t be surprised if people beg you for more of your cheese or offer to buy it from you.
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