Milk. It’s the major ingredient in cheesemaking. Without milk, there can be no cheese. But when shopping for milk, the home cheesemaker will find him or herself confronted with a wide variety of different milk and milk derivatives that can potentially be used for making cheese. So which kind is right? Which milks will give you a smooth, firm, and flavorful cheese and which will result in a whole lot of nothing? Well, allow me to help sort this out for you.
Raw milk – this is the milk that comes directly from the animal and is filtered and cooled. Think of it as “milk on tap.” Because it has not been subjected to the heat of pasteurization, all of the protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. are intact. Some will claim that raw milk has a flavor that is fuller and richer than that of pasteurized milk. These same folks will also claim that raw milk gives you a much better cheese. Raw milk, however, can also harbor some nasty bacteria — Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Brucella abortus, Brucella melitensis, Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, so you have to be very careful when using raw milk. Under US law, raw milk cheeses must be aged for longer than sixty days before they can be sold commercially.
Homogenized milk – is milk that has been heat-treated and pressurized to break up the fat globules. This keeps the cream in solution and prevents it from rising to the top. If you use this kind of milk to make cheese, it will produce curds that are smoother and less firm than those from raw milk.
Cream-line milk – the opposite of homogenized. Here the cream portion separates from the rest of the milk and rises to the top.
Pasteurized milk – milk that has been heated to 145oF and cooled quickly. Pasteurization kills all bacteria, both the harmful ones and the natural microflora that are useful in cheesemaking. This is why, when making cheese with pasteurized milk, we have to add our own starter cultures. Pasteurization also denatures proteins, and denatures some of the vitamin and mineral content of milk.
Ultrapasteurized milk – has been heated to 191oF for at least 1 second. This is done to give the milk a longer shelf life, but it absolutely destroys everything within – protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. As a result, ultrapasteurized milk is worthless for making cheese!
Ultra-Heat-Treated (UHT) milk – This product is created by flash-heating milk at a temperature of 275-300oF. This is the milk that you see packaged in foil-lined containers on grocery shelves. Unlike ultrapasteurized milk, UHT milk can be used for cheesemaking, but only for making soft cheeses.
Whole milk – contains all of its original ingredients and has a fat content (from cream) of 3.5-4%. This is the most typical milk used in cheesemaking.
Nonfat (Skim) Milk – Most of the cream has been removed from this type of milk, which reduces the butterfat content down to 1-2%. Skim milk does have uses in cheesemaking, including making prepared starter culture, as the main ingredient in hard grating cheeses such as Romano and Parmesan, and for making lower-fat soft cheeses, In addition, skim milk can be used to make other dairy products such as buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, etc.
Dry Milk Powder – these are dehydrated milk solids. This product is useful if you happen to find yourself someplace where you cannot get access to fluid milk. Simply mix 1-1/3 cups of dry milk powder in 3-3/4 cups of water, and you’ll have one quart of fluid milk. And there’s no need to worry about bacterial contamination, because the dehydrating process inactivates any bacteria that may have been present in the milk solids.
Nut and Bean Milks – are processed liquids made from beans such as soy and nuts such as almond and cashew. Nut and bean milks can be used to make soft cheeses and other dairy products, however, final products from batch to batch are much less consistent than those of mammalian milks.
Buttermilk – Buttermilk was originally the liquid drained from a churn after butter was made. The buttermilk purchased in stores is a cultured buttermilk that is made by adding bacterial starter culture to pasteurized skim milk. This cultured buttermilk can then be used to make soft cheeses.
Cream – This is the fatty portion of milk. For cheesemaking, only two kinds of creams are useful – light whipping cream and half-and-half. Do not attempt to make cheese with heavy whipping cream; the excess fat will interfere with the cheesemaking process. And there you have it – a guide to the right milk to use for the kind of cheeses you wish to make. I hope you’ll find this information udderly delightful.