When you first start making cheese at home it can be a little daunting. Never fear! You have more items than you think at your disposal and you can gradually build up the equipment you need as you go along.
If you are starting completely from scratch then often a cheese kit is a good starting point. You can often make several cheeses with a cheese kit and they will usually contain a lot of the basic equipment you’ll need. They will also have a few good recipes to follow as well to get you started. We would advise starting with soft cheeses first – not only do they tend to be easier to make, you need less equipment (such as cheese moulds and cheese presses) you need.
Basic equipment – you’ll need a large saucepan for starters, capable of holding at least a gallon of milk, preferably two and if you can stretch to a Bain Marie or double boiler so much the better. You can easily scald the milk if you heat it directly and it is best avoided. When cheese making you can either stand the saucepan in hot water, then add more hot water to bring the heat of the milk to the correct temperature, or use the double boiler/ Bain Marie method. If you only have a normal pan and must heat the milk directly, do so very gently and stir well so that the heat is distributed evenly through the milk.
You will need a culture to acidify the milk – a basic mesophilic one is a good one to start with– pick a versatile one such as Meso type II that will make several different cheeses, as having lots of different cultures can work out expensive. As you get more confident you can increase your range of cultures – adding a thermophilic culture for making harder cheeses or Penicillium Candidum for making a blue cheese like Stilton for example.
You’ll almost certainly need rennet- different choices are available, please see the rennet blog.
Cheese salt is a must too – it’s fairly cheap, it lasts forever and you need a surprising amount of it when making cheese. Worth keeping in stock as nearly all cheeses you make will need it.
You will need cheese cloths or curd bags to contain the curd as you drain the whey from the cheese. Worth having a few to hand – as you make more cheeses you'll need more, you can often have a few cheeses hanging at the same time and the others being cleaned so you might want to think about having more than one. The same can be said for drainage mats – useful for standing the cheeses on and you’ll find you use more of them than you think as you get more involved in making cheese.
A thermometer for taking the temperature is essential – from a basic cook’s thermometer, one that clips onto the side of the pan or a digital one, keeping careful record of the temperature is an essential part of the cheese making process.
These are the items that I would consider are necessary, as you try to make a wider variety of cheeses and move on to harder cheeses, you'll need more equipment. Cheese moulds will be the first thing you should spend your money on. Check out our blog on cheese moulds to get more of an idea of what sort of mould you need for the type of cheese you are aiming to produce. Think about investing in a cheese press if you aim to make a lot of hard cheeses, you can do without when first starting out but you’ll need one in the long run.
Other items you’ll want (apart from extending the range of cheeses cultures that we mentioned briefly earlier), p.H test papers or better still a p.H meter for checking the p.H of your cheese, very important as you become more accomplished at making cheese. Hygrometer – for testing the humidity when you are ageing your cheese, wax or foil papers for storing your cheese and various coatings and cheese waxes for your cheese for forming a protective layer and creating a more professional finish.