Milk is Milk Right..? Pull the Udder One!
Your selection of milk for cheese making is key, put simply great quality milk makes great cheese. But, with so many different types of milk available in the supermarket it’s hard to know what exactly you’re buying. So, here’s a quick look at what happens to milk before we buy it, and what this means for cheese making. Our Italian Trio Cheese Making Kit uses standard whole (‘blue top’) milk so we’ll start here.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this is ‘whole’ milk as it comes straight from the cow, well not quite. ‘Whole’ refers to the fat content of the milk. Naturally the fat content of milk varies (between 3 and 5%) according to a number of factors such as the season, quality of the animal’s diet, stage of the animal’s lactation, and the animals breed.
Milk produced on a dairy farm is collected (usually) daily, delivered by tanker to a processing factory where it is mixed with milk from a number of farms. The milk is standardised which means the total fat content is adjusted by skimming off the fat so that the milk has a total fat content of 3.5-4% (as is shown on the carton). Fat supplies flavour and texture in cheese so do your best to select good quality whole milk for making ricotta and mozzarella.
‘Black and white’ cows, are the most common dairy cow in the UK, they produce the most amount of milk at an average of around 20 litres per day’.
But that’s not all that happens during processing: All of the milk that is sold through retailers must be pasteurised, it’s the law. You can buy unprocessed (raw) milk but you can only buy direct from the producer. Hook and Son in East Sussex for example sell raw milk both on-line, and at a range of markets. During pasteurization milk is heated and held at temperature for a set period of time before being cooled very quickly. This kills off any potentially harmful bacteria, increases the storage life of milk and decreases the risk of food-borne illnesses. The downside is that pasteurisation (and homogenization) decrease the amount of calcium in the milk which can affect the formation of the curd. This tends not to cause a problem for home cheese makers making simple cheeses in the kitchen. However, in some cases Calcium Chloride will be used to help achieve a firmer setting curd, e.g. in the making of hard cheeses.
Standard milk is also homogenized which essentially means the fat molecules within the milk are broken up into smaller particles so that they do not settle at the top, like they used to when milk was delivered to your doorstep in bottles (..if you can remember that, unfortunately I can)!. In milk that has been homogenized the broken up fat particles remain evenly suspended throughout. In cheese making, homogenized milk produces a curd that is weaker than un-homogenized milk. So, when you are selecting milk to make cheese, choose an un-homogenized milk if you can. Remember, better quality milk makes better cheese!
Un-homogenized (‘gold top’) milk is available in all of the major supermarkets. We like to use Graham’s gold-top milk, it makes amazing mozzarella!
Our mozzarella, ricotta and feta recipes work with standard whole milk. You could use semi-skimmed milk but whole milk gives a better yield and taste. Milk with a lower fat content gives you a drier cheese and lower yield. Remember, better quality milk gives you a better quality cheese!