CHEESE MAKING MILK OVERVIEW
Not all milk, from all sources is created equal. In fact, all milk varieties are slightly different. It is important to understand the differences between milk sources, in order to make adjustments (where possible) for successful cheese making. Unless specified otherwise, our recipes are based on using cow’s milk.
Generally speaking, the less processed the milk, the better your results.
Milk is made up of four main components: water, lactose (natural sugar), fats and protein. Each major constituent may vary depending on the source of the milk, diet of the animal, breed, health, stage of lactation, season, and milking methods. For this reason the yield of cheese, or results, may not always be exactly the same.
Pasteurisation of milk is a legal requirement in Australia for all milk sold for human consumption. Pasteurisation involves heat-treating the milk to destroy any potential harmful pathogens. Pasteurised milk is perfectly fine for home cheese making, however it does result in milk that has slightly less available calcium to help bind the curd together. This means that pasteurised milk will result in a softer more fragile curd. The loss of available calcium can be compensated for, by adding calcium chloride.
Most milk we buy in Australia has been homogenised. Homogenisation breaks the structure of the proteins into much smaller pieces, and disperses the butterfat globules evenly throughout the milk (this is why unhomogenised milk usually has a layer of cream on the surface). Unfortunately homogenisation does cause lasting damage to the milk in relation to cheese making, and thus is not always ideal for the home cheese maker. If homogenized milk is used to make cheese, it will produce a much softer curd with a lower yield of cheese.
Whilst homogenised milk may not work well for cheeses that need a firmer curd set, it can be ideal for some cheese recipes (our recipes specify where homogenized milk is perfectly fine).
UNHOMOGENISED MILK BRANDS IN AUSTRALIA
Unhomogenised milk is widely available throughout Australia in the chilled section of most supermarkets, specialty food stores and health food stores.
Parris Creek Full Cream
Demeter Bio-dynamic Unhomogenised
Alexandrina Full Cream
Tweedvale Full Cream
Parris Creek Full Cream
Alexandrina Full Cream
Tweedvale Full Cream
Jersey Fresh Non-homogenised
Fleurieu Jersey Premium Un-homogenised
Margaret River Organic Full Cream Milk
Ravenhill Dairy’s Pasteurised Only Full Cream
Sunnydale Full Cream Milk
Farmers Own Full Cream Unhomogenised
Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm Green Milk
Elgaar Cream On Top
Cow’s milk is the most common type of milk used in cheese making as it is the most readily available in Australia, and also has the most developed collection of recipes for the home cheese-maker. Cow’s milk, as I am sure you are well aware, tastes creamy and sweet without a hugely strong or spicy kick, unlike some of its alternatives. Despite peoples concern, the fat content of cow’s milk is relatively low at approximately 4% for full cream milk. It has a lactose and protein content of approximately 4.5% with the rest of the volume consisting of water, minerals, vitamins and enzymes. Cow’s milk in Australia comes as both homogenised and unhomogenised in the chilled section of supermarkets, specialty food stores and health food stores.
In comparison to cow’s milk, goat’s milk tastes and performs quite differently. It has a much tangier flavour that may be described as ‘Goaty’. Goat’s milk has a fairly similar profile with regard to water, protein, and lactose although it can have a higher fat content than cow’s milk. Despite these similarities, the fat globules and proteins are quite different in their structure and therefore give a very different curd.
The milk itself does not come unhomogenised, as it is naturally homogenised as it leaves the goat. Due to these differences, goat’s milk curd can be very soft and fragile and has a tendency to fall apart, which results in a lower yield of cheese.
If the home cheese-maker is not concerned with allergies/intolerances, the fragile nature of goat’s milk can be compensated for, by adding 2tbsp of skim milk powder per liter of milk. The addition of skim milk powder makes the milk more robust and results in a higher yield without affecting the flavour or texture of the resulting cheese. Further adjustments that may need to be made, are doubling the rennet and increasing setting times. Goat’s milk is widely available in the chilled section of supermarkets, specialty food stores and health food stores.
Sheep milk is much richer than its cow and goat counterparts. The water content is significantly less at approximately 82%; it has a higher fat content of approximately 6.5%, 4.5% lactose and 5.5% protein. Sheep’s milk has a stronger flavour when comparing it to cow’s milk, which may be referred to as musky. These differences result in a much firmer/stronger curd and a higher yield of cheese. Sheep’s milk is not commonly found in Australia for purchase.
Ultra High Temperature (UHT) milk, is milk that has been heated to temperatures above 135°C for a few seconds. The resulting milk is essentially devoid of any bacteria whatsoever, making it much less perishable and giving it a shelf life of 6-9 months before opening. Due to the overly processed nature of UHT milk, it does not lend itself well to many cheeses, however there are a few cheeses and cultured dairy products where it does work successfully. UHT milk can be used when making yoghurt, quark, and cream cheese.
LACTOSE FREE MILK
Due to the processed nature of lactose free milk, it is not recommended (but can still work) for cheeses where unhomogenised milk is specified. The fresh lactose free milk from the chilled section of the supermarket, can still work for most cheeses (not mozzarella), however the results will not be as good and with a much lower yield.
MILK FROM MILK POWDER
Milk reconstituted from milk powder may be used for your cheese making recipes, however the curd will be very soft and fragile and result in a low yield of cheese.
To maximise your success when using milk from milk powder, it is best to use reconstituted milk from skim milk powder mixed with pure cream. Reconstitute milk according to manufacturers directions and add ½ cup pure cream to 2L of reconstituted milk.
Some recipes will list skim milk powder as an optional ingredient in addition to unhomogenised milk. Adding skim milk powder in these recipes increases the yield of cheese without affecting flavour or texture.
Cheese recipes requiring cream will most often refer to pure cream unless specified otherwise. Pure cream (unlike thickened cream) contains no thickening agents and usually has a fat content of around the 38% mark. Butter recipes require a fat content of above 40% cream. In such a case it would be necessary to mix pure cream with a small amount of double cream (minimum 48% fat content), to reach the desired fat content.
OTHER VARIETIES OF MILK (NUT, SOYA, RICE)
Soya milk can be used successfully for yoghurt and quark making. No other milk alternatives work successfully for home cheese making, unless gelling agents are used.