The first cheese was an accident! Early shephers would carry milk with them in an animals skin/gut. The enzymes "curdled" the milk & the acid helped preserve it. That was the beginning of cheese.
There are very simple techiniques to start with (I've read, but haven't done, so perhaps my time has arrived). Perhaps several of us can make our first "childs cheese."
I would suggest Cheesemaking 101 at http://www.cheesemaking.com/product_...cts_id-128.php
Typically cheese Makers think of the production of soft cheeses and hard cheeses separately. Here we will discuss how to make soft cheeses. For a discussion of the production of hard cheeses, see Cheese Making 201 -- Hard Cheeses.
The soft cheeses that most people are familiar with include cottage cheese, "goat" cheese, cream cheese, etc. Roughly speaking, any cheese that can be spread with a knife will have been produced by a "soft" process. There are 3 basic steps in making a soft cheese:
- Persuade the solids in the milk to coagulate into curds
- Separate the coagulated curds from the remaining fluid, called whey (Yes, this is exactly the same Curds and Whey that Little Miss Muffet has been unsuccessfully trying to finish for the past few centuries.)
There are a wide variety of soft cheeses. What differentiates one soft cheese from another is mostly the method of persuasion used on the curds. Basically, there are two ways to get the curds to do their thing:
- raise the acid level of the milk until the solids simply give up the ghost and clump together (i.e. curdle)
- add an animal derivative called rennet to the milk. The rennet contains an enzyme called rennin that does the curd-making deed.
Often, one uses some combination of acid-induced and rennet-induced coagulation to produce a particular cheese.
Within the realm of acid-induced coagulation, there are two primary options to choose from:
- add a highly acidic substance such as lemon juice or vinegar to the milk.
- add a carefully chosen strain of lactose-lovin' bacteria to the milk and allow the little buggers to reproduce like mad. One byproduct of this bacterialogical feeding frenzy will be lactic acid. Soon (typically within a few hours) the bacteria will produce enough lactic acid to make the milk curdle. By the way, bacterially-induced coagulation is also used to produce yogurt.
Separating curds from whey is a simple filtration process. The most common technique is to scoop the curds and whey into a specially manufactured cloth named (surprise!) cheesecloth and let the whey drain out the bottom of the bundle.
Oh yes, we should mention TWO BIG HINTS
- with milk, freshness counts
The fresher the milk, the better the cheese. If you happen to live in a place where they have real live cows walking around, try to find a friendly farmer (don't try to find a friendly cow by yourself) and get some really fresh milk. If you are going to be using the milk to make soft cheese, make sure that you pasturize the milk first.
Store-bought milk can make perfectly good cheese. The fresher your milk the better your cheese. If you are milking your own animal, chill immediately and use the milk as soon as possible. Cheese Making will never make bad milk better. If you are so inclined ask your local grocer to carry milk that has not been "Ultra"-pasteurized. This is dead milk and really has nothing in the way of redeeming quality.
Once you get started, we heartily suggest that you try a few different sources of milk to see which is the best for you. As we said, it really makes a difference.
- with everything, cleanliness counts
You need to make sure that your selected strain of bacteria is the only strain of bacteria that is allowed to chow down on all that lovely lactose. Therefore, EVERYTHING that touches the milk, culture, rennet, etc needs to be carefully sterilized before it can be used to make cheese. That's pretty much the whole story in a nutshell. Given that the process of making cheese from milk is so straightforward, it is surprising that the craft has become fairly obscure in modern times. Nonetheless, given the current rarity of home cheese Makers (as opposed with say, home beermakers) the novice typically can't get their hands on that most useful of resources ... the experienced craftsperson. As a result, you will no doubt, at some point, find yourself staring at a large lump of white glop and wondering "Can this be right?" Usually, the answer is "Yes." So press on. And with a modest bit of perseverance, you will be able to have the pleasure of enjoying a newly made cheese as well as a new hobby.