Not to gloat or brag or anything, but I am staying the summer in a jurisdiction where it is legal to sell raw milk. I have today turned a gallon of locally-produced raw milk into a few balls of mozzarella and about a third of a pound of ricotta. They are certainly not the best cheeses I’ve ever had, but they were a lot of fun to make, and I am kind of proud of them.
I highly recommend Dr. Fankhauser’s Cheese Page for detailed, step-by-step information. Dr. Fankhauser has recipes (with photos) for all sorts of soft and semi-soft cheeses, as well as for things like homemade rennet. (I’m eager to make his Limoncello recipe, too.) From my background as a cheesemonger I was not lacking for theory, but this process has reminded me that there is a great deal of daylight between theory and practice.
I have typed up a few notes in case anyone else wants to try this. It’s a great deal of fun and totally worthwhile. I pasteurized the starter base — last night I added active yogurt to a few cups of raw milk to keep as future starters, and I pasteurized that milk because I wanted to be sure that it had nothing but the yogurt culture in it. I did this more for consistency of product than for safety, and I do not believe it will affect the ultimate flavor as very little starter goes into each batch of cheese (2 oz. starter per gallon of raw milk.) After a while, I may make a new starter from raw milk.
I was surprised by how acid the starter was this morning, and a little worried that I was going to have acid cheese, but however it happened, the cheese is mild and soft-tasting, with a little bit of that milky sweetness that you want from cow’s-milk mozzarella.
Invest in a good thermometer before you get started. A thermometer is the single object you will most interact with while making cheese. It should clearly show the temperatures without you having to guess between them. I made do with a candy thermometer which broke the temp into five-degree intervals so I was doing a lot of guessing. It turned out alright, but the anxiety isn’t worth it. You really only need to see the temps between about 60f and 200f, so a candy thermometer or a roast thermometer aren’t going to be great for this. Also, the thermometer should clip to the side of the pot so you don’t have to keep sticking it in, taking it out, washing it, forgetting where you set it to dry, &c.
When you make ricotta, you will smell the same flavor that you can taste on, for instance, Cheetos. That doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong: processed cheese products such as Cheetos have dessicated whey in them. I gave my whey to a local pig farmer because I’m angling for some guanciale or lardo this fall.
Working clean: I used quat sanitizer that I got from a restaurant supply store as a final rinse on all my utensils and so on. You can also use distilled vinegar if you rinse everything off with really hot water (you don’t want the vinegar to contaminate the cheese.) I think it’s important to be as safe as possible when making raw-milk cheese at home because this is how raw-milk cheese has gotten a bad name. This means using fresh milk from grass-fed cows, using clean containers and utensils, and being ever-mindful of cross-contamination. Most raw-milk disease outbreaks have been traced back to so-called “bathtub cheeses” made under unsanitary conditions. Don’t take any risks. Don’t make it harder for the rest of us.
Be careful with pasteurized milk, though, too. All pasteurization means is that many of the bacteria were cooked at the time of pasteurization. It doesn’t mean they can’t come back, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t cross-contaminate after pasteurization.
But do make the cheese. Support a local dairy. Have something to brag about when tomatoes come in. It really is a lot of fun.