If you're considering making cheese at home, one of the most important things to consider is what kind of milk to use.
Milk is, after all, the starting point for many kinds of cheese. It can determine the flavor, texture, and even the color of your cheese.
But don't worry—we've got you covered with our favorite milk for cheesemaking. In this article, we're going to break down the different types of milk you can use when making cheese and why we love them!
MILK FOR CHEESEMAKING
Before we jump right into the main discussion of the best milk for cheesemaking, let's lay the groundwork with a short history of milk. What types of milk are available in the market, and what properties of milk do you need to make deliciouscheese-making recipes?
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THE STORY OF HOW MILK BECAME CHEESE
Milk and cheese have a history that goes back thousands of years, when humans learned to tame wild animals and began domesticating them for food. The first people to drink milk were hunters and gatherers who used to hunt wild cows and goats. Then, people started raising animals specifically for milk.
Milk became a staple food item for many peoples around the world. Later on, people began to store and preserve fresh milk for longer periods, which proved difficult due to its high nutrient value and susceptibility to bacteria. This was when humans figured out they could capture excess milk and create a nutritious food product: cheese!
Eventually, people found that milk, left to sit and sour, produced lactic acid and coagulated into curds. The taste of these curds was good, and they lasted a long time before spoiling. People later removed these curds from the whey by straining a mixture of milk and acid. This allowed for more natural storage of dairy products and easier transportability of the milk source.
Through trial and error, people also found that adding natural additives to their milk made it curdle more easily. This led to the discovery of rennet—an enzyme used to coagulate the proteins in milk into curds.Rennet comes from an animal source such as calves’ or lambs’ stomachs, but today, there are also vegetarian versions available.
People discovered that adding thistles to milk resulted in firmer curds that were less likely to break while being made into cheese. For many years this was how cheese was made, and as time progressed, more flavors were added, ingredients were experimented with, and newcheese making supplies were invented.
COMPOSITION OF MILK
The composition of the milk has an important role in cheese making. However, the composition of milk is quite complex, and its exact makeup varies according to the type of animal that produces it. For instance,cow's milk is made up of the following parts:
Generally, milk is made up of approximately 87% water and 13% other components, including proteins, fats, and minerals.
The major protein in milk is casein, which comprises about 80% of the total protein content.Casein forms clots when heated or agitated, giving rise to curds (curdling) in cheese production and separating out in soured milk to form curds and whey (the liquid).
DIFFERENT TYPES OF MILK AVAILABLE IN THE MARKET
Many types of milk are available in the market; so, to determine which type of milk is right for cheese making, it's important to know what they are and how they differ from one another.
Pasteurized milk is the most common type of milk available on the market. This type of milk has been heated at high temperatures to kill any bacterial growth. More specifically, it involves heating the milk to161ºF for 15 seconds.
Pasteurization also ensures that the milk doesn't spoil easily and can last for a long time without refrigeration. The taste of pasteurized milk may be affected by this process, but it is still safe for consumption, as it is no longer considered raw or unprocessed.
Ultra-pasteurized milk has been heated at an even higher temperature than with regular pasteurization. It involves heating the milk to280°F for two seconds, which kills almost all bacteria present in it.
Ultra-pasteurized milk has a longer shelf life than regular pasteurized milk (up to 90 days). However, ultra-pasteurized milk has changed flavor over time and may have less nutritional value than raw milk or regular pasteurized milk, due to its long shelf life.
This type of milk has been treated with a process called homogenization, which breaks up large fat globules into smaller droplets, so they stay evenly distributed throughout the liquid instead of separating out at the top after sitting for a while (which is why homogenized milk has a creamier texture). Homogenized milk is alsoeasier to digest than non-homogenized versions because your body isn't working as hard to break down those large fat globules.
Non-homogenized milk is just regular milk that hasn't been homogenized. This type of milk has not been treated with heat or enzymes to reduce the size of the fat globules. It’s also sometimes called "creamline" milk because it has a layer of cream on top.
Non-homogenized milk has a slightly higher fat content than regular milk. But it also contains more nutrients, like vitamin A and riboflavin (vitamin B2).
Pasture-raised milk refers to the way dairy cows are raised.
In the past, cows were often kept in barns and fed grain-based diets. Today, many farmers are moving away from this practice and raising their cows outside on pasture land instead. This means that the cows are able to graze on grasses, herbs, and other plants—and it results in better-tasting milk.
However, this type of farming requires more land than conventional farming methods do. And because of the extra effort that goes into pasture-raising cows, pasture-raised milk is often more expensive than conventional milk. But it also containsmore nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and vitamins A, D, and B2.
Raw milk is just as it sounds! It hasn't been pasteurized or homogenized, so it retains all of its nutrients, natural enzymes, and bacteria.
Raw milk contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes that are destroyed during pasteurization; but it also carries more health risks than pasteurized milk because it maycontain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7—which can cause serious illness if consumed by humans.
Whole milk is just that—the whole thing. It's the most common type of milk in the market. It contains 3.25% fat (because all the cream has been left in) and has a very creamy consistency, which makes it a great choice for cooking or drinking. Whole milk is also a great source of protein, calcium, and vitamins A and D—but it also contains the highest amount of fat and calories.
If you're lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy, try 2% or 1% instead. These kinds of milk have less fat and fewer calories than whole milk.
Named for the percentage of fat in it, which is 2%, this is a reduced-fat, nutrient-rich beverage that's high in calcium and protein. It's made from the same wholesome ingredients you find in whole milk; the only difference is the amount of fat. It's a great source of calcium, protein, and vitamins A and D—all things your body needs to stay healthy!
1% milk, or low fat milk, has even less fat than 2%, but it still tastes delicious in its own way! If you're looking to cut back on calories while still getting some good nutrients in there, this is your best option by far.
Skim milk is a type of whole milk that has had most of its fat removed, also called nonfat milk. It's a great alternative for people who are lactose intolerant or who want to reduce their dairy intake.
Skim milk is made by removing all of the cream from whole milk, leaving behind what's known as "skimmed" or "skim" milk.
BEST MILK FOR CHEESE MAKING
According to experts, the best type of milk for making cheese has a0.7% to 1.15% difference between its fat and protein content. Here is a rundown of our favorite kinds of milk for cheesemaking and why we love them:
Whole milk is the best choice for making cheese because it's high in fat and protein. It’s a good option for making soft cheeses, such as cream cheese and cottage cheese. It contains about 3.5% fat, which is what gives it a creamy texture when cooked.
The only downside is that whole milk tends to be a little bit more expensive than other types of milk. But if you're going to go through the entire process of making your own cheese at home, why not get the best quality ingredients?
Pasteurized milk is typically the most common choice for making hard cheeses for beginners because it's easy to get a consistent result. Pasteurization kills bacteria that can cause food poisoning or spoilage in milk.
It should be noted, though, that pasteurization alsocauses some of the proteins in milk to change their structure. This makes it harder for them to bond with each other when they're heated up during the cheese-making process, and they need time to rest and rehydrate before they'll form curds properly.
Skimmed and low-fat milks can be used instead if you're concerned about cholesterol intake or calories; but they may not give you as much control over texture and flavor as whole milk will.
Skim milk is often used to make hard cheese, such as Romano and Parmesan cheese. It can also be blended with whole milk to make varieties of cheese, such asCheddar cheese.
WHAT ABOUT RAW MILK:
You can also use raw milk to make cheese. Raw milk hasn't been heated or pasteurized, so it's more likely to spoil than pasteurized milk. It’s beneficial for cheesemaking because it's rich in enzymes and beneficial bacteria that can help the cheese ripen and develop flavor.
The process is pretty much the same as it would be with pasteurized milk. But you'll have to do a few extra steps to ensure that the bacteria in your milk doesn't contaminate your cheese.
While some people prefer raw milk because they believe it tastes better, others think it's too dangerous to use because of the risk of contamination.
The truth is, there isn't enough data yet to say definitively whether raw milk is better than pasteurized, but we do know that if you're going to use raw milk for cheese-making, you need to make sure your source is safe and reliable.
WHAT ABOUT ULTRA-PASTEURIZED MILK:
Ultra-pasteurized milk has been heated to a temperature that kills any bacteria and pathogens, which is a good thing if you're worried about foodborne illness.
Nevertheless, it also means that it's more difficult for thecheese cultures and rennet to work with this type of milk, because they need live enzymes to do their job. This can lead to longer incubation times or lower yields.
Ultra-pasteurized milk can also change the texture and flavor of your cheese, which is why some cheesemakers choose not to use it at all.
CAN MILK QUALITY AFFECT CHEESE MAKING?
Yes, it can, especially if you're using raw milk. Raw milk is milk that hasn't been pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of heating food to high temperatures to kill bacteria and make it safe to use.
Raw milk has ahigher risk of contamination than processed milk because it hasn't been heated. Therefore, some cheesemakers choose not to use it. If you want to make cheese from raw milk, make sure you're buying from a reputable source.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR BEST CHEESE MAKING MILK
Milk is an important ingredient in cheesemaking, but it can be hard to know what to buy—especially if you're not entirely familiar with the ins and outs of dairying.
There are honestly so many different milk options out there, and it's hard to know where to start. We did our best to compile a list of the ones we think are worth trying first, with some helpful tips on how and when to use them. Ultimately, though, you should experiment as much as possible and find what works best for you.