Why You Need the Right Cheese-Making Supplies

Some Cheese Maker Supplies Aren’t Optional. But Some Are!

cheese-making-supplies

Photo by Shelley DeDauw

A good inventory of cheese-making supplies isn’t tough to obtain, or even expensive, but it’s necessary for good cheese. Here’s what you can substitute and why you can’t scrimp on certain products.

If you have already tried your first goat milk cheese recipes, you’ve noticed these call for items like dairy thermometers or cheesecloth. And, if you’re like me, you were so excited to get started that you hated to wait for two-day shipping on these cheese-making supplies. For mozzarella, that’s fine. You can substitute a sieve for cheesecloth. But to try complicated recipes, you need the proper tools.

Don’t worry. They’re not expensive.

Calcium Chloride

Low calcium levels create a weak curd, which can disintegrate or lose shape. Adding calcium chloride strengthens harder cheeses or products, like feta, which sit in brine.

Can you substitute? Omitting calcium chloride won’t affect ripening; it’ll just make soft cheese.

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Cheesecloth

Cheesecloth catches curds and separates whey. Some curds are tiny, such as with ricotta, and good cheesecloth allows drainage of large and small particles.

Can you substitute? Grocery stores sell open-weave cheesecloth but the holes are too large. Other cloth, such as tee shirt material, may be too dense or leave fibers. Butter muslin or tightly woven cheesecloth are crucial cheese-making supplies.

Cheese Making Book

Though magazines offer great recipes, a cheese-making book offers even more, in addition to glossaries, troubleshooting FAQs, and histories of specific cheeses. It’s more trustworthy than someone’s blog.

Can you substitute? Start with magazines. Search out books and other cheese-making supplies when you’re ready to get serious.

Cheese Salt

Salt brings out flavors of finished cheese but iodine inhibits necessary bacteria growth. Cheese salt does not contain iodine. It can also come in flaked form, which dissolves easier than grains.

Can you substitute? Yes, if it’s non-iodized. Flaked kosher salt also absorbs well, where grainy table salts may not. Colored black or red salts may discolor cheese.

Colander

Draining curds through cheesecloth is easier when cloth rests within a colander. It also enables collection of whey.

Can you substitute? Go ahead, but please send me pictures of your results. (I recommend getting a colander. It doesn’t have to be a specific type.)

Curd Cutter

Cutting coagulated curd allows more surface area from which whey can drain. Companies selling cheese-making supplies offer special cutters.

Can you substitute? Use a long kitchen knife instead. Just don’t cut yourself.

Dairy Cultures

Mesophilic and thermophilic powders for cheese, or probiotic starters for yogurt, contain good bacteria for flavor and texture. If milk is stored warm, bacteria will grow. Make sure they’re bacteria you want. Commercially prepared cultures add pure, high-quality probiotics strong enough to crowd out bad bacteria.

Can you substitute: I use store-bought yogurt with live, active cultures to start homemade yogurt. But beware of store-bought products because bacteria may not be healthy or strong enough to ensure safe growth. Purchasing cultures for yogurt, buttermilk, or cheese is a better guarantee. When making goat cheese, I always use commercial cultures.

Dairy Thermometer

Certain cheeses need to be ripened or curdled at certain temperatures. To obtain the right flavor, add cultures at exactly the right time, which may be 86 degrees, not 85. A dial thermometer often doesn’t have that leeway, especially if it measures up to 250 degrees for candy. Dairy thermometers are specifically for food at lower temperatures.

Can you substitute? Yes, with a digital cooking thermometer. But it needs to be inserted within the liquid. Instant-read infrared thermometers measure surface temperature.

cheese-making-supplies

Photo by Shelley DeDauw

Molds

Cheese becomes wheel-shaped within molds. Perforations allow drainage and molds are often lined with cheesecloth for easy removal.

Can you substitute? Homemade molds are common cheese-making supplies. Be sure they are not metal or plastic which can leach chemicals, such as PVC.

Non-Chlorinated Water

Chlorine can interfere with cheese curds because it stops rennet’s enzymatic action. If tap water is chlorinated, either filter it or use bottled water. Keeping distilled water with cheese-making supplies ensures chlorine won’t be a problem.

Nonreactive Container

Aluminum, cast iron, Teflon, or chipped enameled pots can react with cheese, causing a bad flavor or interfering with ripening or curd.

Can you substitute? No, but stainless steel, unchipped enamel, or glass cookware are a good investment.

Raw or Pasteurized Whole Milk

Proteins and butterfat within the milk separate from whey to create the finished product. More butterfat means more cheese. Using 2 percent milk will produce very little curd, though a gallon costs nearly as much as whole milk. Also, do not use ultra-pasteurized or heat-treated milk because they have been heated so high that proteins are damaged and will not curdle.

Can you substitute? No. If you purchased ultra-pasteurized cream, use it for butter; ultra-pasteurized milk can still be cultured for yogurt.

Rennet

Originally found in the linings of ruminant stomachs, rennet now comes in animal or vegetarian formulas. It helps cheese curdle and hold its shape so it can be drained and shaped.

Can you substitute? Rennet is necessary for any cheese which is cut or grated. Dessert rennets like Junket are not strong enough; always use cheese rennet, which is sold with other cheese-making supplies. Liquid rennet is easier to use but tablets can be frozen to extend storage life.

Wax

Coating hard cheeses with wax will maintain moisture levels and inhibit mold growth during curing. Cheese wax is food grade, soft, and can be reused and stored with other cheese-making supplies.

Can you substitute? Avoid toxins by always using food grade cheese wax. If you wish to stay away from paraffin, use beeswax instead.

Wax Brush and Pot

Melt wax within the pot and brush it onto dry, formed cheese.

Can you substitute? I use an old, cheap pan. And I dip my wax.

Though some cheese-making supplies are optional, others are necessary for safe bacterial growth or to avoid toxins. Research recipes to determine which supplies you need then store them together so you’re ready when the cheese-making urge strikes.

Did we forget any important cheese-making supplies? Do you recommend others? Let us know.

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