“Home cheesemaking” sounds like an epic endeavor, and indeed, it’s slightly more involved than popping a Hot Pocket in the microwave for a midnight snack. The results, however, are infinitely more exciting than a grease-leaking instant meal and will wow the socks off your friends. Opening a cheesemaking book, you’ll find that you probably don’t have all the necessary equipment lying around the kitchen. Here’s where you gear up with the basics! Peruse our suggested must-have tools, visit
one of our recommended suppliers, and begin your home cheesemaking adventure with an advantage.
- Sanitizer or Iodine
Cheesemaking should be a sterilized affair, and a bottle of sanitizer or iodine goes a long way. Keep your tools clean and your milk and eventual cheese free of unwanted bacteria for a happy result.
- Calcium Chloride
Calcium chloride assists in coagulation and, when called for, is typically added at the same time as the rennet for a more firmly set curd. It’s often used in diluted form, and it’s good to have it available when you’re making cheese.
Rennet is generally a necessity when making cheese, as it is responsible for changing milk into curd. Just a bit of this powerful coagulating enzyme is enough to gel a vat of milk. Several types of rennet are available; some lend themselves more readily to specific cheese types, so it’s best to decide what you’re making before choosing a rennet. Traditionally rennet is obtained from the stomach lining of a calf, kid, or lamb. Some consumers prefer vegetable and microbial rennets, which are created in a laboratory and do not derive directly from animals. Thistle rennet, featured in our spring issue (Spring 2010, “Animal Meets Vegetable,” pp. 38–45), is one option, although production of thistle rennet cheeses has many requirements and the rennet itself is not readily available. Animal and vegetable rennets are sold in liquid, powder, or tablet form.
The difference between a Camembert and a Gouda begins with the bacterial cultures that are added during production. Cheesemakers closely guard proprietary information on their culture makeup, as therein lies the secret of a cheese’s individuality. Cultures come in many varieties and should be purchased after you’ve decided what type of cheese you are creating.
A reliable thermometer is crucial in the business of cheesemaking, and it is important to avoid the tricky varieties that will betray you midprocess. Look for a high-end, dial-equipped thermometer for the greatest success. Chances are you will need one for nearly every recipe to accurately track the heating of the milk.
A perforated ladle is handy for transferring curds to draining destinations or molds, and it is the kind of kitchen staple that you may already have. You can use this tool, available in plastic or stainless steel, for more than just cheesemaking and get your money’s worth.
The whisk, another utensil most of us already have, is extremely helpful in cutting and stirring curd, especially if you’re making a hard cheese that requires very small curds. Available at most kitchen stores and supermarkets, whisks should be big, sturdy, and stainless steel.
- 10″ FLat-Blade Knife
Releasing whey from newly formed curd is crucial in the production of many cheeses, and this step is assisted by cutting the curd. A good curd knife is a boon here. It should be long (10 inches) and flat-bladed for maximum success.
Cheesecloth is a staple in cheesemaking and can be used to drain curds and line molds. Easily obtainable at most grocery stores, cheesecloth is a great help when you’re trying to keep things clean and dry.
- Draining Bag
Draining freshly created curds is one of the more formative steps in cheesemaking, and a draining bag can make this an easily executed task. The bag is handily squeezed, hung, squished, and stored. It can be used repeatedly and is easy to clean.
- Ripening Mat
Also used as draining tools, ripening mats are clean, ventilated surfaces on which new cheeses can sit safely while they ripen and dry. They can be cut to size and are sometimes used as a lining for ripening pans and containers. Stock up on these to save yourself the headache of trying to make that old dish-drying rack work with cheese.
- Ripening Pan
Aging and ripening your cheese correctly is one of the more difficult feats of cheesemaking, as so much depends on temperature, humidity, daily turnings, brushings, and so on. The ripening pan provides moderately controllable, clean, and enclosed yet viewable housing for new cheeses. Some pans are conveniently equipped with a draining tray insert and a lid. Most are dishwasher safe and sturdy enough for long-term use.
Cheese molds (also known as forms) come in various shapes and sizes and are responsible for forming curds into recognizable cheesy shapes. Often perforated with holes for draining, molds are typically plastic and reusable. Pick the cheese you’d like to make before you shop for the right mold, as there are so many to choose from.
Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses
(Storey Books), by Ricki Carroll
Unofficially dubbed the “home cheese-maker’s bible,” this book is a great stepping-off point for beginners, and an old favorite of intermediates. With 75 different cheese recipes, from soft to hard to mold-ripened varieties, Home Cheese Making does more than cover the basics. The book ends with a handy and hefty section on serving and cooking with cheese.
Making Artisan Cheese: 50 Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen
(Quarry Books), by Tim Smith
Interspersed with wonderful photos and illustrations, this book is excellent for the intermediate home cheesemaker and covers a variety of cheeses that include blues, cheddar, ricotta, and mascarpone. To top off his collection of recipes and instructions, Smith also briefly covers cheese plate assembly and wine and beer pairings. Pair this book with Home Cheese Making for a well-rounded homecheesemaking education.