Fresh and Versatile Cheeses

1 / 4
2 / 4
3 / 4
4 / 4

Diluted rennet is added by pouring it over a slotted utensil so that it disperses evenly across 
the milk and can be stirred efficiently. 
Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell

The first two methods of basic cheesemaking are a combination of heat and added acid to curdle milk, and added starter culture to cause bacteria to produce acid and curdle milk. The next steps in the basic cheesemaking process include using a tiny amount of rennet to help coagulate the milk, and draining of the curds. These steps take a while as the added bacteria must be given time to produce enough acid to form a curd. With the addition of a touch of rennet, the milk will achieve a much thicker consistency than any of the products in the last chapter. This is also the first time that calcium chloride is used in the recipes, since it is only helpful if you are using rennet. All of the cheeses made with the following method are tender, soft, and meant to be used fresh.

As with the other cheese and milk products we have made so far, there is a huge variety made throughout the world that go by many different names. But you wouldn’t learn any more, other than that there is little difference between these recipes.

Steps for Making Fresh and Versatile Cheeses

The method for making fresh and versatile cheeses is essentially the same as the one for making cultured milks and creams only with a few additional steps after the milk is heated and the culture is added. This method yields about 2-2.5 pounds of cheese per gallon of milk (0.9-1.1 kg per 4 L), depending on how long it the cheese is drained.

Follow the steps for heating the milk and adding the culture, then continue with the following steps:

Add Calcium Chloride

If calcium chloride is to be used (it is usually optional, but sometimes helpful), it is always diluted and added at least 5 minutes before the rennet; it is never added afterwards or the coagulation will be erratic and broken. The recommended dose of calcium chloride is approximately equal to the amount of single-­strength rennet used, or about 1/4 tsp. (0.7 ml) per gallon of milk. It should be diluted in cool tap water before it is added to the milk. Use 1/4 cup (30 ml) water for every 1/4 teaspoon (0.7 ml) of calcium chloride.

When the milk has fully coagulated and ripened, ti will pull away form the sides of the pot and
a thin layer of whey will cover the surface.
Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell

Add Rennet

Before adding rennet, it should be measured very carefully; too little will not provide enough enzymes to properly coagulate the milk, and too much will add odd flavors and bitterness. All rennet types must be diluted or dissolved in cool, non-chlorinated water before adding to the milk. If only chlorinated water is available, it can be easily dechlorinated by adding a drop or two of milk, just enough to add a touch of milkiness. (The presence of the milk inactivates the chlorine.)

Before adding the rennet, start stirring the milk using an up-and-down motion with a ladle or spoon; this gets the milk moving so that the rennet mixes in as quickly as possible. Stop stirring briefly and pour the diluted rennet over the flat part of the ladle so that it splatters across the surface of the milk, and then continue stirring with that up-and-down motion for about ten strokes. Hold the flat part of theladle to the top of the milk in several spots to help still the milk. As soon as the rennet is added, it starts doing its invisible work. By stirring well, but not in a swirling motion, you are able to mix it in thoroughly and get it to stop moving quickly. This helps ensure that it coagulates as evenly as possible.

Ripen and Coagulate

After the rennet has been added, the milk must sit very still and not be bumped or stirred. Even vibrations from a counter or floor can cause tiny breaks in the coagulation. The coagulation period will usually last about 20-60 minutes, depending on the type of cheese.


Once the curd has thickened to the desired texture and tanginess, some of the whey is removed by draining the curd in a bag, cloth or form. These cheeses are too soft and mushy to be pressed or drained in a loosely woven cloth, so you must use a fabric that is fairly tightly woven. The bag or cloth is usually hung or suspended in some manner allowing gravity to do the work of whey removal; the handle of a ladle, or other sturdy utensil, set across a pot works nicely for this. Once the desired texture is achieved, the curd is stirred, salted, and refrigerated — or devoured!

Chevre or fromage blanc curds can be hung to drain over a pot. 
Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell

Store and Use

Cultured fresh cheeses will last several weeks in the fridge as long as they aren’t exposed to yeasts and molds. They are high in moisture, like the quick and simple cheeses produced in chapter 4, but lower in moisture than the cultured milks and cream of chapter 5. Since they are loaded with good bacteria and are quite acidic, they have a long shelf life, and some can even be frozen with very little change in texture upon thawing.

What to Do With the Whey From Fresh and Versatile Cheeses

The cheeses from this process will create whey that contains some milk sugar, acid, a bit of fat, and some protein. There isn’t much nutrition in it, so it isn’t good for as many uses. You can use it to water acid-loving plants (such as evergreen trees, azaleas, and most berries), or pour it on compost or down the drain.

The craft of home cheesemaking is exploding in popularity. However most “beginner” books are essentially loosely organized collections of recipes which lack a progressive approach to teaching the fundamentals of this exciting and satisfying traditional skill. Mastering Basic Cheesemaking provides a complete hand-on guide to making cheese and other fermented dairy products from scratch, geared toward helping the novice cheesemaker to develop the intuition and abilities to position them for success, especially in the real world of the home kitchen. This well-illustrated, clearly written practical guide assumes no prior experience on the part of the aspiring cheesemaker.

Reprinted with permission from Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home by Gianaclis Caldwell and published by New Society Publishers, 2016. Buy this book from our store: Mastering Basic Cheesemaking: The Fun and Fundamentals of Making Cheese at Home.

Inspiration for edible alchemy.