So you want to make cheese? The hardest, most complicated, and most intimidating part of the whole process is staring at the catalog trying to figure out what supplies and equipment to order to get started.
The most important ingredient is the milk. More than any piece of equipment or any other ingredient, the milk will affect the final product and how much fun you have during the process.
Your milk should be 100% grass fed; this will improve the flavor and increase the yield. Furthermore, if the cheese is from 100% grass-fed cows, it will be healthier than cheese from grain-fed cows. Milkfat is incorporated into cheese, and whether that fat makes you sick or healthy is determined by the diet of the cow. If the cow eats grass and grass alone, the omega-3 and omega-6 fats are in perfect balance, with roughly the same amounts of each. However, if the cow eats even a small amount of grain, the omega-6 fats increase while the omega-3 fats decrease, resulting in higher incidences of cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, allergies, obesity, diabetes, dementia, and various other mental disorders. Furthermore, if the cows are 100% grass-fed, their milk contains four or five times as much CLA, which is one of the most powerful dietary anticarcinogens known.
If possible, your milk should be from a breed of cow that has been developed for quality instead of quantity of milk. Guernseys, and some other breeds, produce milk that has more fat and protein t han Holstein milk. The more fat and protein in the milk, the more pounds of cheese you will get from each gallon of milk.
We prefer raw milk for cheese-making, but if you use raw milk, be sure to know your source and get it only from a farmer you trust.
Cow share from Sunny Knoll EcoFarm (100% grassfed milk)
One share will give you about 5 to 6 quarts per week. Easy 30-minute mozzarella needs one gallon (4 quarts) per recipe. Hard cheeses such as cheddar and parmesan need two gallons (8 quarts) per recipe. With one share, you could make a batch of mozzarealla and have a quart or two of milk left for your cereal, drinking, or cooking each week. With two shares you'll have enough to make a batch of cheddar or parmesan and have about three quarts leftover for cereal, drinking, or cooking. While goat and sheep milk can be frozen for a month or less before making cheese, we do not suggest making cheese from frozen cow's milk. The different parts of cow's milk separate from each other upon thawing.
Citric Acid and Cultures
To make cheese, the first step is usually to acidify the milk. To make mozzarella with the quick and easy 30-minute method, you use citric acid. To make hard cheeses (e.g. parmesan, cheddar, jack, and swiss) and many soft cheeses (e.g. fromage blanc, cream cheese), the first step is to innoculate the milk with a culture and the culture acidifies the milk. Mozzarella via the 30-minute recipe is a good place to start, so buy some citric acid. While you're at it, buy some cultures for hard cheeses too.
Citric acid (for mozzarella)
Mesophilic starter (for cheddar, jack, colby, cream cheese)
Thermophilic starter (for parmesan, provolone)
Fromage blanc starter (for fromage blanc)
Rennet is used to coagulate the milk. The second step in making cheese is to add rennet. A variety of rennet options exist, with something available to suit everyone's preference. Animal rennet is made from calf stomach. Vegetable or microbial rennet is made from non-animal sources and is appropriate for vegetarians. Animal rennet is usually sold as a liquid while vegetable rennet is usually sold as a tablet. I have tried both and have got much better results from animal rennet. I also find that it is easier to use because the animal rennet, as a liquid, is easy to dilute. In contrast, the vegetable rennet tablets are more trouble to dissolve and dilute in water. While I initially felt a little squeamish about using rennet from animal stomachs, I do eat meat because humans are evolved to eat meat. If I'm going to be eating meat, I want the whole animal to be used and nothing wasted, so it makes sense to me to use the stomach too. Unless you are a vegetarian, I recommend buying the liquid animal rennet.
Liquid animal rennet (get the vegetable tablets only if you are opposed to eating calf stomach)
You could just use whatever salt you already have in your kitchen, but I have got better results with cheese salt. Buy a lot of it. It is cheap and you'll use a lot, especially if you make parmesan and other cheeses that are soaked in a brine.
Equipment To Buy
You can make cheese without these handy gadgets, but you'll have a lot more fun doing it if you invest in a few new kitchen gadgets.
Curd Knife (stainless steel)
Curd Ladle (stainless steel)
Mini measuring spoons (1/8, 1/16, 1/32 teaspoons)
Equipment You Already Have
Big stainless steel pot (2 or 2.5 gallons is good for hard cheese; 1.5 or 2 gallons is good for mozzarella)
Stainles steel collander
Some small glass bowls for diluting rennet and citric acid
Cheese Mold and Press
If you buy a cheese mold, make sure that you buy one that comes with a follower designed specifically for the mold. Cheese molds come in either plastic or stainless steel. It is possible to put random heavy objects on top of the mold to press the cheese, but balancing them is difficult. I have made plenty of tasty cheese this way, without a real press, on the cheap. It is a great way to start out without making a big investment. However, balancing the heavy objects does not give as good results as a real cheese press (many cheeses need to be pressed with 50 pounds of pressure), and I have been spending way too much time and trouble due to random heavy objects falling off the cheese in the middle of the night.
Cheese press (balance random heavy objects if you don't want to spend the money on a real one)
I'm saving my pennies for a stainless steel mold so that my cheese will never touch plastic. http://www.lehmans.com/store/Kitchen___The_Home_Dairy___Making_Cheese___Stainless_Steel_Cheese_Press___33050285?Args=/
I'm also dreaming of a real cheese press and am debating between the stainless steel one at the above link and this one, which is the one that I think I'm going to purchase http://www.cheesemaking.com/store/p/49-Dutch-Style-Press.html
Note: I buy all my cultures and rennet, along with some equipment from this website. http://www.cheesemaking.com/
The cheese book that I recommend is this one: (please follow this link from my website to support our farm with your purchase)