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Making Sense of Cheese Cultures

by Suzanne


Making yogurt at home is one thing, but making your own cheese? That's way too much work! Or is it?

Many cheeses can be made using milk and some basic kitchen equipment that you probably already own: a pot for heating milk, a large slotted spoon, and a thermometer. Throw in some cheesecloth, and you've got an amazing snack in the works! Take a look at Stacie's Basic Soft Cheese Recipe to learn how easy it can be.

What About Cheese Cultures?

In Stacie's recipe, as in many others, there isn't just one culture in the ingredient list, but a choice of several. How in the world does a beginner choose the right one? The good news is that there is no 'right one' when you're talking cheese cultures. If a recipe gives you a choice, then they all work to make that type of cheese. Let's use Stacie's recipe to learn more.

Using Cultured Dairy as a Cheese Culture

Many cheeses can be made with another cultured dairy product you already make at home. The first few culture choices are milk kefir, plain yogurt, or clabbered raw milk. Any of these products makes a good soft cheese. They all have live, active cultures, so they all make great basic cheese cultures. What's the difference? The simple difference is that each contains a different set of bacteria, giving your finished soft cheese a different flavor.

Choosing Between Cheese Cultures

As with yogurt and kefir, each cheese culture has a specific set of bacteria that give finished cheeses a variety of flavors and textures. Stacie's next set of choices for cheese culture includes direct set chevre, fromage blanc, flora danica, or mesophilic culture. The first 2 choices are for a specific type of cheese, though they can be used for other recipes.
  • Chevre cheese culture works great with goat milk. The finished cheese is fresh-tasting and creamy.
  • Fromage Blanc culture has a fuller, richer flavor, like fromage blanc cheese.
  • Flora Danica cheese culture is a more versatile cheese culture with a fresh, buttery flavor and a light texture. This culture is commonly used to make soft goat cheeses. It's also perfect for making your own sour cream, cream cheese, cultured butter and buttermilk, and even creme fraiche! When you're ready for a bit more adventure, try Flora Danica for making Havarti or Gouda. Delicious!
  • Mesophilic Culture (MA11) is a general cheese culture great for a wide variety of medium temperature cheeses. Some easy ones to get started with are neufchâtel, cream cheese, and queso fresco. If you're ready to step up your cheese game, try cheddar, colby, or feta.
Thermophilic Culture (TA61) is a general cheese culture for higher temperature cheeses, so it wouldn't be appropriate for Basic Soft Cheese. It is good for delicious Italian cheeses such as Mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan, and Romano. When it comes to cheese cultures, there are many choices. Try a couple of different cultures with your favorite cheese recipe to see which suits your taste. The great thing is that they'll all taste marvelous!