By Contributing Editor Kristina Strain

The main question you might be asking is, Why on earth would anyone make their own cheese? And up until a few months ago, I was right there with you. Why? Because you can avoid excess salt, coloring, preservatives, chemicals, and all that other nasty hoo-ha pretty darn easily. Want rBGH-free cheddar? That’s as easy as starting with rBGH-free milk. Have access to local organic milk from a nearby farm? Here’s all the tools you need to turn it into cheese.

For starters, the kit’s bold and catchy graphics would put anyone in a good mood. The directions are clear, fun, and easy-to-follow, and almost everything you need is included in the kit. In testing out the homemade mozzarella recipe, the only things I needed to provide myself were a stove, a pot, a spoon, and rubber gloves. Having everything on-hand in a tidy little kit sure streamlined the process for me. Since I’d never made cheese before, it was nice knowing everything I needed was included.

Before you Begin: Choose Your Milk

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need raw milk to make cheese. Grocery store milk will work fine, in most cases. The one bugaboo you need to beware of, however, is dreaded ultra-pasteurized milk. Ultra-pasteurization (different from regular old pasteurization) is a process of super-heating the milk to reduce spoilage and increase shelf-life. Ultra-pasteurized milk commonly has a shelf-life of over a month. This strategy is used in the industry for products with relatively low demand– heavy cream, say, or (unfortunately) organic milk. A carton marked PASTEURIZED will make fine cheese, just stay away if it says ULTRA.

Of course, if you have access to raw milk, that will work as well. Just make sure it’s from a reputable source, and not going to make you sick. Milk-borne illness is nothing to take lightly.

Basic Cheese Making Instructions

Though cheese making instructions vary from cheese to cheese, the basic process is this:

1. Put milk in a pot (usually a gallon).

2. Heat it up.

3. Stir in some cultures/rennet/citric acid/things that make it turn into cheese.

4. Remove from heat and let the cultures etc. work their magic.

5. Squeeze it, pull it, drain it. Render it cheese-like.

6. (Hard cheeses only.) Age it.

In the picture to the right, you can see what the process looks like between steps four and five. It really is magical how the curds separate, leaving behind the whey.

In my case, I was making mozzarella, which is a very quick-to-make cheese. After about 30 minutes, start to finish, the cheese was done.