How to Make Cheese with Raw Milk
I started making cheese about a year after we brought home a milk cow.
The first year with a milk cow I spent trying to figure out what I was doing. I was new to milking a cow and feeding a cow and owning a cow. It was a big year. Most of the time I was just surviving months of a chronic mastitis infection and trying not to cry (we bought a cow with an incurable staph infection – that we didn’t know she had). It was rough.
It wasn’t until we entered the second year owning a cow that I began to really explore the possibilities of fresh milk. This is when I fully embraced the home-dairying and said goodbye to the dairy aisle at the local grocer.
My cheesemaking began with the simplest cheeses that only required basic ingredients we had on hand (several kinds of farm cheese can be made using buttermilk, yogurt or vinegar).
Here I am several years later and I must confess that I have not ventured too deep into the cheesemaking escapades. I still consider myself a novice cheese-maker, even though I make cheese all the time and have even taught cheesemaking classes.
I still have plenty of cheese-fails, so I suppose this is what hurts my confidence.
When I began making cheese I had many dismal failures that could have been avoided if only I knew…
These little nuggets would have prevented me from ruining so many batches of cheese!
I hope to save someone from feeding half of their cheesemaking attempts to the chickens with these gems.
#1: Raw Milk is Different from Pasteurized
I only make cheese with raw milk. As a family, we decided we wanted to take in all the probiotics along with our dairy products. We do not pasteurize any of our milk.
If you are making cheese with raw milk, you will need to make some adjustments to recipes.
Raw milk contains all of its natural bacteria and flavorful flora. This will make your cheese more flavorful, and it will not need the amount of added cultures that pasteurized milk does.
This is particularly true when it comes to coagulating (coagulate means to change from a liquid to a solid). Raw cow’s milk will naturally coagulate if it is left at room temperature (curdle and separate). The bacteria in the air will produce a culture all by itself.
This means that you actually do not need rennet in order to get raw cow’s milk to coagulate.
I’m told that goat’s milk does not do this.
Each of these factors needs to be considered when evaluating a cheese recipe. Ask yourself: Is this recipe for raw milk? Do I need all of these ingredients?
Many ingredients used in cheese making are there to produce bacteria or encourage coagulation. Raw cheese already has plenty of natural bacteria (probiotics) and always coagulates without any outside intervention if left at room temperature. This means if you add a bunch of rennet to raw milk – you could end up with a flotation device instead of cheese.
#2: The Type of Milk Used Does not Determine the Style of Cheese
Actually, Any Type of Cheese can be Made with Any Milk
Let me say that again. All types of cheese can be made with any animal milk: goat, sheep, cow or buffalo.
The type of cheese produced is determined by the cultures used and the process – not the animal producing the milk.
It doesn’t matter if you are milking a sheep, goat, cow or something else. If you have fresh milk – you can turn it into cheese.
You don’t need a goat to make feta (traditionally made with goat’s milk)
You don’t need a cow to make brie.
You can make literally any type of cheese you want with whatever milk you have.
#3: You can not Make Cheese with Some Milk
Although you can make any cheese with any variety of animal milk, some milk will not work.
Milk that CAN NOT be used to make this (or any) cheese: Ultra High Pasteurized milk, almond milk, soy milk, cashew milk, or any other sort of man-made milk.
Ultra-pasteurized (UP) or ULTRA-HIGH TEMPERATURE (UHT) milk:
UP and UHT milk are exposed to extreme heat (191 degrees for 2 seconds) followed by a cold shock (below 40 degrees). The process this milk undergoes (to make it shelf stable long-term) denatures the milk to the point that it can not be used to make cheese. This milk will not properly set desirable curds.
Raw milk or pasteurized milk are the best choices for cheese making.
#4: Grass-fed Animals Produce More Acidic Milk
If your animal is primarily grass-fed, expect your milk to be higher on the acid scale. This is important in cheesemaking. It is likely you will never need to add calcium chloride or lipase powder to your cheeses. Adding these to raw milk can make cheese bitter.
#5: Don’t ‘wring out’ the cheese
You may think you are hurrying up the draining process, but you aren’t. The curds must release the whey, and time is what makes the whey come out – not squeezing.
#6: Follow the Prescribed Times
If the recipe says to hang the cheese for 4 hours – do it. If it says to let it ripen for 12 hours – do it.
Shortening or lengthening the times can have a huge impact of the cheese.
If the recipe directs a 4 hour hanging time, take the cheese out of the cheesecloth after the 4 hours (even if the cheese is still dripping). Continuing to let cheese drain after the prescribed time can make it dry. The whey will continue to release until something stops the process.
#7: Salting Cheese
Salt is very important to cheese. It gives the cheese flavor. It lengthens the shelf-life. It stops the cheese from continuing to develop.
#8: Use Filtered Water
I use water from my Berkey when making cheese. Cheese making does not use much water (Usually there is just a bit to mix the rennet into or some used to wash curds). the water you use must be chlorine and fluoride free.
#9: Start with Small Batches
By making small batches of cheese, you will accomplish several things. First, you will not have wasted 3 gallons of milk if the cheese was not successful. A lot of time and cultures are used to make large batches of cheese. It can be very disappointing when a significant amount of cultures were utilized and the cheese is tossed to the chickens.
As long as you stick with small batches, you won’t be as likely to cry if it is a failure.
When you stick to smaller batches you will have an opportunity to indulge in a variety of cheeses. Using 3 gallons of milk to make 3 different kinds of cheese, will allow you to make and taste different cheeses. This also provides a selection for the family and guests to enjoy.
#10: Make more than One Cheese During a Session
As you improve your skills in cheese making you will be able to make more than one type of cheese at a time. This will be a more efficient use of your time and provide a broader variety of cheeses for the table.
Making cheese is a rewarding skill to have. Not only will you be more self-sufficient, you will learn a lost kitchen craft and have delicious, healthy cheese to share!
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