Friday, September 17, 2010

Questions About Milk

You can't make cheese without milk!

We have a HELP section on our website with many questions answered about all phases of cheesemaking.  In that section, I used some of the actual questions sent in to our technical advisor- Jim Wallace, (right) to compile a summary of the most frequently asked questions.

Recently, I was looking at the database which consists of a couple thousand questions and answers, and I thought it might be interesting to pick out a few and share them with you.  You might already know the answers, or you might learn a few things- who knows?

I will start with 12 questions and answers about milk.  I may have corrected a few grammatical errors (and in doing so, probably made my own!), but otherwise, the questions are exactly the way they came in and the replies are exactly the way Jim answered them.

Using Real Milk

Q.  I just made my first batch of cheese today from the recipe in Kingsolver's book for mozzarella (Note:  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver) and I'm totally hooked.  

My question is this:  How important is grass-feeding in the production of quality milk?  I'd like to raise my own dairy goats and perhaps a cow, but I live in Fairbanks, Alaska and I'm not sure I'll be able to grass feed my animals all year round here (dried grasses maybe).  I've been hearing so much about how grass feeding affects animal products.  What is your take on the importance of grass-feeding and milk quality, flavor, cheese-making etc.?  What kinds of grasses are best?  What grains are best if you can't grass feed all the time? 

A. Good cheese can be made from dairy processed milk, but a full depth of flavor/aroma will come from grass fed.   The same applies here as in all foods -the closer we get to the food chain the healthier we are.   Even winter hay feeding is better as long as you maintain nutrition.  Herds maintained on grass, hay, grains, fermented fodder etc. will all produce different qualities and flavors of milk.

Q.  I'm new at cheese making because 6 weeks ago my husband brought home my very first Jersey cow, and she's a beaut!  She's giving us 2 gallons of wonderful milk every day, with nearly 1/3 of it rich cream. I've bought some equipment from your company and am enjoying my learning sessions in my kitchen. So far I've made queso fresco, mozzarella, queso blanco and cheddar (with a homemade press).  I believe your company will be shipping out a professional press to me today.

My cheese is rubbery.  I put 2 T. of salt in my queso fresco, but it's seems bland. My mozzarella seemed to cook faster than the video showed.  It was a mass (not curds) when it came time to put it in the microwave for the first time.  And the curds were tough and I couldn't cut them.  (I used the 30 minute recipe) because I had ordered the starter kit. I believe there are some temperature variations I need to learn for using real, fresh cows' milk in all the recipes?  I did see in the "Home Cheesemaking" book a recipe for making mozzarella with fresh cows' milk and will try that, but what about the rest of the recipes?  How do I adapt the recipes for fresh cow's milk?  I am not pasteurizing.  One thing I have done (which may be wrong) is skim the cream first, and use the milk for cheese making. Should I leave the cream in? Also, should I be using a lower temperature?

A.  The FIRST thing you need to learn in cheese making is that the recipes we give are not really like in baking a cake.  They are guidelines only.  

Now, considering that milk comes from such a variable range -breeds, pastures, geographics, etc., it should not be surprising that milk is not the same from place to place (and even day to day).   Most of our customers only have access to store bought milk and so most of our recipes are directed to their milks.  Some, like yourself, are very fortunate to have the best wholesome milk to work with.
In my workshops, I primarily use raw milk with some store bought for comparison. The primary thing you need to know about fresh milk is that it needs less of everything- culture, rennet, heat (except for very fat milk) etc...  The rubbery texture is due to excessive rennet; usually you can cut back about 15-25% on both rennet and culture because the raw milk has plenty of culture naturally and the calcium/protein balance is so good that the curd forms with much less help from the rennet and culture.
Q.  I will be using clean raw milk from a trusted source for my cheese. In your booklet, you provide directions for pasteurizing raw milk-- is this something you would recommend a first time mozzarella maker do?

A. Since most of our customers use store bought milk, our recipe references are all for pasteurized milk.    If you do want to use raw milk, you must be 110% sure of its healthy quality. The decision to use raw milk is yours and yours alone. If you do need to pasteurize raw milk and would like to use it immediately for cheese making,  there is no need to cool it below the target temperature for your cheese making process.  You may  need to adjust the temperatures, amount of culture, and rennet for this fresher than store-bought milk.

Q.  Quick question, when you make cheese with Raw milk do you need to use starter culture?

A. I do use culture with raw milk but usually about 20-40% less.  It is possible to develop a starter from raw milk  as they did in the past centuries BUT you are never sure of which strains you are developing NOR are you sure that some of these are unhealthy. To me, the ideal scenario is to use raw milk for some of the flora but guarantee that you have the acid producers by using the modern cultures.

Q.  I just got the kit in the mail, and was wondering if I could make the 30 minute mozzarella with raw milk?  I know that there is a fresh milk recipe on the next page, but I don't have the ingredients for that yet.

A. Raw milk is what I prefer and tends to make the best mozzarella.  If you use it, you may find that your mozzarella will work best at the lower temperatures (86-90F).  Pasteurized milk these days needs to be heated to near 100-105F to make a good curd.  (Note:  In our recipe online, there is a step where the curds are heated to105F, but if you are using raw milk and your curds are firm enough, you may skip this step.)

Using Store-Bought Milk

Q.  Is it possible to make cheese with half and half?

A. I would think only the very soft fresh cheese since you will have such a high butterfat content that it would be difficult to remove moisture.  This would be more in line with a double creme plus. These are not easy cheeses to make for the home cheesemaker

Q.  I have a question about milk.  I read through all of the information about pasteurization and what to look for in milk. We are fortunate to have a local Arizona dairy with widespread distribution of organic milk products. On their web site they describe using a process called HTST pasteurization. This is what they say:

You'll notice that our organic products have a shorter code date than our regular milk products. That's because they're produced, processed and sold right here in Arizona, so they're super fresh and tasty. It's just a few short miles from the farm to the processing plant to the grocery store, and they sell right away. Since we don't have to extend their shelf life, we don't need to process them as much. Instead, we use what's called an HTST pasteurization process that gives them a shorter expiration date.

This seems to fit the bill in terms of the local, shorter shelf-life but I just thought I would see if you know if the HTST process is okay for cheese making?  Or do I need to keep looking for a different milk option?

A.  Unfortunately, this HTST which means Hi Temp Short Time (originally 161F @ 16secs ) has now been increased to cover up for a more contaminated milk supply and in some place goes into the 180F range and for a longer time. If they do this at 168-172F+ the milk will become problematic because this releases whey proteins and they tend to interfere with good calcium/protein bonds for a good curd.  The shorter shelf life is somewhat promising , so hopefully if you give them a call they will tell you the details.  Most small cheese makers use a Low Temp Long Time method- 145F for 30 minutes, which does much less damage.

Q.  I received a cheese making kit about a year ago and had great success making mozzarella--I made about 12 batches over 8 month.  I use milk from our local dairy (flash pasteurized) and the rennet from you which is kept in my freezer. The past 3 batches have failed--although they seem set and separated at the point where I draw the knife through and ladle out the curds, once we begin the microwaving it crumbles, looking like chunky ricotta. I can't think of anything that has changed in between the cheese that worked and that which did not.

A. The  most important thing is what has changed in the last year - our milk sources.  The problem is probably the milk.  It is not UP but it is heated beyond the normal pasteurization temp of 161F (it is never marked as such and more and more dairies are doing this).  You are experiencing the new wave of  'Big Brothers'  protecting us from ourselves.   

Strong suggestions from the feds have milk plants (not comfortable calling them dairies any more) pasteurizing milk in the 170+ into the 180's range. Considering the damage that takes place at 161F ( as traditional pasteurization temperatures), anything over 172F  has to be problematic for cheese making.  So the new directives have put more and more of our milk supply in the 'grey zone' between traditional pasteurization and UP.

The best plan for finding milk is to find a local dairy, providing milk that does not have to travel so far. (PS the "bioterrorism" thing is a lot of hooey... they are simply trying to compensate for our sloppy milk producers.)   Now excuse me while I step down off my soapbox. 

Q.  The recipes state that I should use calcium chloride if the milk has been store-bought.  Is this true for all store-bought milk?  I'm buying locally-available pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) organic milk.  Is using calcium chloride a precaution in case the milk has been pasteurized at too high a heat?

A. All store bought milk has been cold stored which diminishes the natural calcium of the milk.  It is effective to restore this with calcium chloride when using all store bought milks.  The amount is 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of milk.

Q. Is it possible to use lactose-free dairy products (like Lactaid) with your kits?

A. Lactose-free is a problem since cheese making requires the lactose for the bacteria to use as a food source.   Lactose reduced/free cheese has little flavor because sugars and fillers are used and the flavors of lactose fermentation are not present.  It is also important to understand that most cheese made with lactic bacteria and complete fermentation and aging will have only a small amount of lactose in the end.

Q.  I used "pasteurized, homogenized" whole milk.  My curd was always very watery and most drained right out of the colander.  So I am assuming it was over-pasteurized because of travel distance, etc as in your FAQ's.  I will search for a local dairy.  In the meantime, do you have any BRANDS that I may look for here in TEXAS? 

A.  We have a milk resource on our website.  Look for "Good Milk List" on the nav bar.  There is some info on Texas there.

Q.  When using powdered milk and cream for the mozzarella recipe (on our website), why is it suggested to let the reconstituted milk sit for at least 12 hours before using it to make cheese?  Being the impatient gal I am, I want to mix it up and get on with it right away, but I shall await your reply.  And in the meantime, I'll reconstitute that gallon of milk ...

A. We recommend this to allow the milk particles to swell up to their original states - patience pays here.


Just Call Me Nora said...

Fresh cream is not available in my area. (I currently reside outside of the U.S.) I want to make some sour cream, and cream cheese (which are also not available here). There is however UHT Cream in cartons. Do you think that it would be suitable for making sour cream, and soft cheese such as cream cheese etc?

Jeri said...

We like for our technical advisor, Jim Wallace, to answer these kinds of questions. You can reach him any time at Happy Cheesemaking!

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Brendab said...

Hello, we have been making cheese for a couple of years. You know, trial and error. We have been using store milk. Some good and some not good. We would like for the cheddar to have a more moist content to it and also other hard cheeses if possible. Does lower the temp a couple of degrees help. It says to in the book we have but not sure where else to get the moisture. Someone told me it also depends on the acid in it and how the curds are cut. Is the size of the mold make a difference in the drying time once it's remove to air dry. We make our own mold from a stainless container. It is a 7". Compared to the one we have from the kit. So the cheese is not very tall. 2" maybe. Maybe cut the air drying time down. Manchego was real good, farmhouse was good, Tra.Cheddar was good. Let me know when you can. Thank you for any help you can give me.

Jeri said...

We have a staff person who answers technical questions like yours - Jim Wallace. He can always be reached at

Clara Floyd said...

Barbara Kingsolver's book started me on a journey that passed through your web site My daughters gave me a goat and I bought your books and equipment. Now I have three goats and two jersey calves. My biggest regret is that I was almost 60 years old before I knew I could make cheese. Thank you so very very much for being part of my journey.

Jeri said...

It sounds like we should do a blog article about you. If you're interested, contact me at Happy cheesemaking!

JoAnn said...

Nora I've made sour cream and cream cheese using UHT Cream in Cartons while living in the South Pacific. In fact my sour cream was so popular the local restaurants ordered regularly from me. I used a yogurt culture.

Doug said...

I have been making mozzarella for the past month or two with variable results - trying different milks, etc. The only one that worked very well at all was the Carnation dry milk!

Today I bought a gallon of organic (non-homogenized) milk that states it is vat-pasteurized at 145 degrees.

It wouldn't form a curd at all - just a slight amount of "cottage cheesing" at the top. I really thought this would be the milk that would work best, but it was by far the worst I've tried yet.

Looks like I might have to stick with the powdered milk from now on - but does this work fine for other cheeses as well (just got my beginner's kit in the mail)?

Jeri said...

Was that a local organic milk? What I'm getting at is that many brands of organic milk are trucked halfway across the country and by the time we get them, they aren't much good for anything. However, if it is fairly local and fresh, I would use it to make any cheese. (30 Minute Mozzarella is very different from other cheeses you might want to make.) Summary- use the dry milk for your Mozz and the organic milk for any other cheese.

Doug said...

Thanks for the reply, Jeri!

The milk was fairly local - from about 300 miles away. Good to hear that it should be fine for other kinds of cheeses.

For my mozzarella, I guess I'll be sticking to my Carnation powder and pint of cream...

Becky S. said...

Can almond milk or coconut milk be successfully used to make cheese, and if so, what kind of cheese would be best to try? I'm a rank amateur!

Becky S. said...

Can cheese be made successfully using almond milk or coconut milk? If so, is there a particular type of cheese that would be best to try with these?

Jeri said...

There are all kinds of recipes for making "cheese" with nut milks and nuts online. Let us know if you find any that taste good so we can share them with others. Happy "cheese" making!

Andres said...

Hello, this is actually a question. I am trying to make my own cottage cheese and would like to know if this can done by using completely non-fat milk. Would this be possible?

thanks, and Happy Holidays!


Jeri said...

All our questions go to our technical advisor- Jim Wallace. You can e-mail him at with the subject-for Jim.
Happy Cheesemaking!

Health Article said...

Very informative, Thanks.