If you want to level-up your make-it-from-scratch game, why not try homemade cheese? Making things from scratch can be fun and rewarding, and making your own cheese is no exception. Plus, you get delicious cheese that’s often tastier than any store-bought cheese.
But isn’t making cheese kind of complicated?
While cheesemaking does have a low barrier for entry, it can get complex – it involves a bit of culinary chemistry, after all. Some cheese is quite finicky in terms of the temperature, pH, and ingredients used to make it. Some cheeses can take days to make and need expensive gadgets to press and store.
The good news is that not all cheesemaking is difficult!
There are many kinds of cheese you can make at home with just a few ingredients, no weird equipment, and no prior experience! It’s also a great activity to do with kids.
We’ll first dive into some background information about cheese ingredients and the cheesemaking process. Then, we move onto the main event – 5 super easy cheeses that’ll make you look like a pro cheesemaker, even if you’ve never made cheese before!
- The Ingredients Used to Make Cheese
- The Basic Steps of Making Cheese
- Cheesemaking Equipment
- Choosing Homemade Cheese Ingredients
- 5 Super Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes
- How to Make Easy, No-Culture Cheese From Scratch
The Ingredients Used to Make Cheese
Cheesemaking is ultimately a simple process using four primary ingredients:
- Starter culture (i.e., bacteria – the good kind),
- and salt.
By lowering the pH and making milk more acidic, casein proteins condense to form curds, separating from the liquid whey. The whey is eventually strained off while the curds are (sometimes) pressed into bricks.
The type of milk, starter cultures, and any added ingredients will ultimately determine the variety and flavor of cheese you make.
The Basic Steps of Making Cheese
While the actual procedure can vary from one cheese to another, the basic steps are the same:
- Add starter culture to the milk, which will begin to ferment the cheese
- Add a coagulant to solidify
- Drain off the liquid whey
- Add salt.
These recipes were chosen as good for beginners in part because they don’t require much special equipment, although you’ll want to make sure you have the following:
- Large, non-reactive pot (stainless steel, avoid copper, aluminum, and cast iron)
- Cheesecloth/butter muslin (in a pinch, a clean tea towel can be used)
- A good thermometer
Most of the links in this article go to Cultures for Health, which is an amazing resource for recipes and all your cheesemaking and fermenting equipment.
Choosing Homemade Cheese Ingredients
There’s chemistry at play here, so you need to be careful about your ingredients when you’re making homemade cheese.
Use Raw or Pasteurized Milk
Use raw or pasteurized milk, not UTH or ultrapasteurized.
Ultrapasteurized milk has been heat-shocked to kill bacteria, a process that unfortunately breaks down the milk proteins and makes them less sticky. Use this and your cheese will probably be too soft.
Raw Milk for Homemade Cheese
Raw milk is pretty amazing. It’s fresh, which means you’ll get a stronger curd and more cheese. Raw milk can also give your cheese character and flavor.
Some states do not allow the sale of raw milk, or you’re only allowed to buy it straight from the farm. If you are near a farm that sells fresh milk, I highly recommend you choose raw milk – it gives your cheese amazing flavor.
Raw milk may be hard to find and it can also be much more expensive to buy than pasteurized milk. Another problem with raw milk is its bacteria. Most of the time, these bacteria are very beneficial, but if the milk is old or not cooled properly, you do run the risk of those bacteria turning “bad” on you. You’ll either get a funny-tasting cheese or, in the worst case, you can get very ill.
Pasteurized Milk for Homemade Cheese
Pasteurized milk is a lot easier to get, but be mindful of the fact that a lot of milk you buy these days is ultra-pasteurized. You don’t want those for homemade cheese.
Pasteurized milk, however, is often much cheaper and more available than raw milk, which might make it more attractive for you. It also tends to give you a more consistent cheese, because it doesn’t contain anywhere near as many bacteria as raw milk.
If you’re planning on selling cheese as a side hustle or homestead income, this is a big benefit. Your cheese will have the same flavor every time. The flavor won’t be as intense as cheese made with raw milk, though, and you still run a risk.
Cultures for Health says that in the 80s, 20,000 people became ill from improperly pasteurized milk… The pasteurization methods are probably better these days, but still. Something to keep in mind.
Learn more about the different types of milk in cheesemaking.
Don’t use iodized salt. For different reasons, iodine interferes with milk’s ability to coagulate and form proper cheese.
Learn more about salt in cheesemaking.
Many cheese recipes contain calcium chloride. Calcium helps glue together the milk proteins to create cheese curds. If your recipe forms weak curds, it might benefit from a little bit of calcium chloride.
The formation of the cheese, as well as the flavor of the final product, depends on the specifics of the ingredients used – right down to the diet of the animal that produced the milk or cream!
Learn more about calcium chloride in cheesemaking.
5 Super Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes
1. How to Make Homemade Cream Cheese
One of the easiest places to start with cheesemaking is homemade cream cheese.
For this recipe, milk is heated on the stove, after which cream cheese culture is added. After sitting for 12 hours at room temperature, the resulting yogurt-like mixture can be strained through cheesecloth and salted. Check out the full recipe on the Cultures for Health website.
- Recipe: DIY cream cheese from Cultures for Health
Want to take that cream cheese a step further? Chef Mike Keuler, the cheese-lover behind So Damn Gouda, recommends a Fresh Herb Goat Cheese Ball. “The beauty is,” Chef Mike says, “it’s nearly impossible to mess up and requires no special equipment!”
- Recipe: Fresh Herb Goat Cheese Ball from So Damn Gouda
2. How to Make Homemade Ricotta and Cottage Cheese
Cheese purists may call for my head on a platter for putting these two varieties of cheese in the same subheading, but the truth is they have similarities: they’re both white, soft, mild, fresh cheese and they’re even used interchangeably some of the time.
Remember Little Miss Muffet with her “curds and whey?” Traditionally, when cheesemakers would separate milk into curds and whey, they’d make cottage cheese from the curds and ricotta from the whey.
How to Make Ricotta Cheese
Finding fresh whey could be a challenge, but if you have some, the recipe below for fresh ricotta couldn’t be much easier. Put the whey in a pot, heat it, wait 5 minutes, skim, and strain. No whey? Try the recipe for goat milk ricotta.
- Recipe: The Easiest Ricotta Cheese from Cultures for Health
- Recipe: Goat’s Milk Ricotta Cheese from Cultures for Health
How to Make Cottage Cheese
If you’re after cottage cheese instead, try this simple recipe. Milk is heated and mesophilic cultures are added, followed by rennet. The mixture forms a firm curd in about two hours. The curd is cut into pieces and the mixture is cooked on low heat for 15 minutes before being strained and salted.
This recipe should result in drier curds, but cream can be added to the final product for creamier cottage cheese.
- Recipe: Cottage Cheese from Cultures for Health
How to Make Paneer Cheese
Can’t decide between ricotta and cottage? Try this paneer recipe courtesy of Summer Yule, a Connecticut-based dietician and recipe developer at SummerYule.com.
Paneer is similar to ricotta, except that it’s often pressed into firm bricks to hold up in sauces like curries. “I use crumbled paneer like ricotta in recipes,” Yule notes, “If you add a little cream, you get cottage cheese. So this recipe gets you several easy cheeses!”
- Recipe: Paneer from SummerYule.com
3. How to Make Homemade Feta cheese
Homemade feta cheese is a crumbly, salty, white Greek cheese, traditionally made from goat’s milk, but cow’s milk can be used.
Other ingredients include feta starter culture and rennet. For this recipe, the salt is best added by brining the curds in salt water for 4-5 days for the best flavor. This one in particular might benefit from calcium chloride to firm it up.
- Recipe: Feta cheese from Cultures for Health
4. How to Make Homemade Farmer’s cheese
Farmer’s cheese is a mild white cheese with a crumbly texture, similar to cottage cheese or ricotta. You can use it as a substitute for either of those or mix it with herbs and use it as a spread. This recipe from Cultures for Health is a little trickier since it requires diligent temperature-taking.
To make farmer’s cheese, milk is heated and mixed with a starter culture. After the curd forms, it’s cut into ¼” cubes and heated slowly. It’s then cooked at 112 F until the curds firm up, and then the curds are drained and salted. Cream is added optionally.
- Recipe: Farmer’s Cheese from Cultures for Health
How to Make Homemade Mozzarella Cheese
Mozzarella cheese takes a little more effort in that it needs to be stretched and pulled, but this 30-minute recipe is a great choice for beginners.
The recipe uses cow’s or goat’s milk, liquid rennet, and citric acid. After the curd is formed and cut into pieces, the curds need to be stretched, using either the microwave or a stove-top water bath. “Stretch the curd by pulling it like taffy until it is soft and shiny,” the recipe notes, “the more you work the cheese, the firmer it will be.”
- Recipe: 30-Minute Mozzarella from Cultures for Health
Jessica Randhawa, the head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon, offers some pro tips for making a great mozzarella: “make sure to use whole milk that is not ultrapasteurized for the smoothest experience,” she says.
“Temperature is key to a good mozzarella! The curd’s internal temperature should be 135 degrees Fahrenheit when starting the stretching phase. If it gets much hotter, the curds will fall apart and eventually dissolve, so make sure you have an accurate digital thermometer before starting.”
Cheese Made Even Easier With Cheesemaking Kits
If you’re looking for the fastest way to get into cheesemaking, check out the DIY kits available from Cultures for Health. They contain almost everything you need: starter cultures, rennet, calcium chloride, cheese salt, even a thermometer, and butter muslin.
All you need is milk or cream and you’re ready to make cheese!
- Mozzarella and Ricotta Cheese Making Kit
- Basic Italian Cheese Making Kit
- Goat Cheese Making Kit
- Fresh Cheese Making Kit
- Paneer and Queso Blanco Cheese Making Kit
How to Make Easy, No-Culture Cheese From Scratch
Making your own cheese is a rewarding and cost-effective pastime, and best of all, it is easy and fun. This section will outline how anyone can make their own batch of no-culture cheese.
Ingredients You’ll Need to Make No-Culture Cheese
The ingredients for making no-culture cheese are simple.
The most important ingredient is milk. You will need 4 liters (8.5 pints) of unhomogenized pasteurized cow’s milk.
This will give you a yield of between 500 and 700 grams (1-1.5 pounds) of cheese.
Milk is typically homogenized before it hits the shelves. Homogenization involves shaking the milk in a machine to get rid of fat concentrations.
While this makes it more pleasant to drink, the process can severely impact the end quality of the cheese, in terms of texture and yield.
Farmer’s milk is normally unhomogenized, and while you can buy it at markets, it is becoming increasingly more available on supermarket shelves.
The better the quality of milk, the better the result.
Investing in good quality milk will give you creamy and tasty cheese to enjoy with your friends and family.
The next thing you want to look for is rennet. You can easily find it online in liquid or tablet form. Rennet is an enzyme found in sheep’s guts.
That might be off-putting for some, but luckily, you can also find junket, which is a vegetarian version. This can also be found in liquid and tablet form.
Cultures for Health is one of the best places I’ve come across for anything fermented. They sell animal rennet, vegetable rennet, and organic vegetable rennet for making your own cheese, as well as many, many other supplies for fermenting in your own home.
- Buy animal rennet (Cultures for Health)
- Buy vegetable rennet (Cultures for Health)
- Buy organic vegetable rennet (Cultures for Health)
The only other thing you are going to need for the base cheese is salt.
How to Make It
1. The first thing you want to do is allow the milk to come up to room temperature naturally.
2. While that is happening, you should prepare your rennet or junket solution.
- For 4 liters of milk, add a teaspoon of rennet to a quarter of a cup of mineral water at room temperature.
- If using tablet form, use 1 tablet, stirring it into the water to dissolve it.
- If using junket, you may need around 4 tablets/teaspoons. This is because it is not as strong as rennet. (Unless you’re using the organic, double-strength vegetable rennet from Cultures for Health)
3. Once that has happened, you want to find a large pot and pour the milk in.
4. Add a decent pinch of salt and very slowly heat it up on a low heat setting.
5. Use a wooden spoon to stir the milk to prevent it from catching on the bottom. This is very important. If the milk catches on the bottom, it will affect the taste of the cheese when it sets.
6. The scientific method to this is to put a thermometer in the milk and take it off the heat at 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius).
As you continue to practice, you will learn how to tell the temperature simply by dipping your finger in the milk or touching the side of the pot. It should feel warm.
This temperature is actually the body temperature of a cow. In days gone by, no-culture cheese was made straight after the cow had been milked.
7. When the milk reaches the right temperature, it is important to move it to a room temperature surface. If you leave it on the stove, and especially an electric element, it will continue to rise in temperature, ruining the separation process.
8. Now it is time to add the rennet or junket water solution. Simply pour it in and stir gently and then put the lid on the pot.
9. If you are making the cheese in winter, you should wrap it in a blanket. On the other hand, if you are making it in summer, you should let it rest in a well-ventilated area.
10. Next, go make yourself a cup of tea and go read the newspaper or watch the news for an hour or so.
The Separation Process for No-Culture Cheese
If you have done things correctly, when you lift the pot lid, you should see that the milk has separated into curds and whey.
You can tell if you have a good batch by lightly prodding it with a wooden spoon.
A good batch will hold together and sink under the yellowish whey without breaking apart when you prod it.
- Grab a kitchen knife and score the curds about six times parallel in any direction.
- Put the lid back on and let the curds rest for another 8-12 hours.
- Once that time is up, get a kitchen knife and score the curds horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.
- Set up a mesh grate over the sink and sit the cheese molds on the top of it, and you are now ready to start spooning the curds into the molds.
Filling or No Filling?
These cheeses can be enjoyed with or without a filling. The plain option is easy to do.
- All you need to do is use your slotted spoon to scoop curds into the molds.
- Fill them right up to the top and give them a gentle tap or two to drain off the whey.
- Once you have filled a mold, sprinkle liberally with salt. Give them a good dose as most of the salt will drain off with the whey.
- You can opt for any inclusions. Capers work very well, as do chopped olives, anchovies, fresh chilies, and pretty much any filling you can think of.
- The secret is to do it in layers and not put too much inside them as it can cause them to break.
- Set aside a little bit of curd and let the cheeses drain for an hour or so.
- When you come back to them, you will see that they may have reduced in size.
- Use the curds set aside earlier to fill up the mold and let them drain again.
- Once they are drained, put the grate over a baking tray and pop them in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
Flipping Your Cheeses
You can enjoy your cheeses after 24 hours, but they do take a better shape if you flip them inside the baskets.
Simply turn them upside down in your hand and give them a gentle tap. The cheese should fall out, and now you need to pop it back into the mold upside down.
Do not worry too much about them losing shape, as they are still a soft enough consistency to take the shape of the mold.
Leave them for 12 hours, and they should now have an equal shape all around. Simply put them on a plate, drizzle with tasty olive oil and eat with tomatoes and basil, or just spread on crusty bread!
Drying and Pickling Your Cheeses
You can also dry these cheeses and store them in a jar for future consumption, but this only works with the plain ones.
- You need to leave them in the fridge for a total of 10 days.
- After a couple of days, you need to take them out of the molds and sit them on top. Keep turning them over every day so they dry evenly.
- After 10 days, take them out of the fridge. You may notice that they look hard and yellow, but if you soak them in white wine vinegar, they turn white instantly. You should let them soak for at least 24 hours.
- When they are ready, you roll them in crushed black pepper. The vinegar will have softened the outside of the cheese, which will allow the pepper to bind with it.
- Let the cheese dry for 24 hours and store in a glass jar. They will keep for at least three months.
- If you want to take the pickling up an extra notch, you can preserve them in a red wine vinegar and olive oil mixture. This will lift the pickling levels to new heights, but it is a very strong flavor, so beware.
Other Options for Your Soft Cheeses
If you want to preserve your cheeses in their soft form, you can make up a saline solution. Be careful here; these soft cheeses take on salt very easily, so make a very weak brine and put it in an airtight jar.
Pop your cheeses in, and they will keep for months.
You can also put them in olive oil and flavor them with garlic, herbs, or peppercorns.
Bonus for Leftover Whey
Most people literally pour the whey used in the cheesemaking process down the drain. You can use it for all sorts of things!
You can use it to make ricotta the Sicilian way. Very simply, bring a pot of milk to the cusp of a boil, and then take it off the heat. Pour in the whey, and it will instantly separate into ricotta curds.
You can also boil potatoes in it, use it in soups or sauces, and you can also use it as fertilizer for your plants.
Whether you’re using a DIY kit or milk from your own dairy farm, I hope these easy cheese recipes inspire you to try your hand at homemade cheese.
Do you have any other favorite easy cheese recipes or cheesemaking tips? Let us know!