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Switzerland first realized the benefits of producing cheese in a factory setting in 1815, producing large enough quantities to sell to the community. This was a profitable idea, since most people at the time were working hard to make their own cheese at home amidst all their other labors, so cheese was usually a rare treat. Once it was manufactured on a larger scale, however, more people were able to enjoy cheese on a regular basis.
The success of cheese manufacture in Switzerland inspired the same in the America. During the 1600s, Puritan women brought their home cheese-making skills with them when they immigrated to America from England. At that time, it was mainly the women who made the cheese, using the cream of the milk for butter making and the skim milk for cheese making. It was challenging and tedious work. So when the first American cheese factory opened in Wisconsin in 1851, American women were overjoyed at the idea of being able to simply buy the cheese they had always made themselves.
Cheese making remained a common process for farms (especially dairy farms) for the first several years after that first American factory opened. But one by one, cheese factories were built across America. Typically mom-and-pop producers, these small cheese factories sprouted up in towns near dairy factories, selling cheese to busy families who gratefully spent a little extra to buy ready-made cheese.
In Wisconsin, as crops struggled to grow with erosion and soil depletion problems, dairy and livestock farms fast became the norm. Wisconsin has been a central hub for dairy products ever since. In 1868, a small cheese factory opened in a little log house in Green County. Five local dairy farmers provided the milk for the cheese production and the economy swelled with the success of the fledgling company. Green County, Wisconsin has remained a major focus of cheese production from that time forward.
Cheese manufacture quickly took off, outgrowing its roots in farm production and moving into massive manufacturing. As the railroads came into Wisconsin, they brought greater demand for Wisconsin cheese and more business for the dairy farmers and jobs for the locals. From that point forward, the cheese business only grew ever larger until it became what it is today. Cheese is as much a part of American history as it is a part of the American diet.
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.