It all starts with collecting milk from dairy farms. Once it’s brought to the cheese plant, the cheesemakers check the milk and take samples to make sure it passes quality and purity tests.
Once it passes, the milk goes through a filter and is then standardized – that is, they may add in more fat, cream or protein. This is important because cheesemakers need to start with the same base milk in order to make a consistent cheese. After the milk is standardized, it’s pasteurized. Pasteurization is necessary because raw milk can harbor dangerous bacteria, and pasteurization kills those bacteria.
At this point, good bacteria or “starter cultures” are added to the milk. The starter cultures ferment the lactose, milk’s natural sugar, into lactic acid. This process helps determine the cheese’s flavor and texture. Different types of cultures are used to create different types of cheese. For example, Swiss cheese uses one type of culture, while Brie and Blue use others. After the starter culture, a few other ingredients are added including rennet and, depending on the type of cheese, color -- which is why Cheddar is orange.
Rennet causes the milk to gel similar to yogurt, before the curds (the solids) separate from the whey (the liquid). The amount of rennet and time needed for it to separate into curds can vary from cheese to cheese.
Once it starts to gel, the cheesemakers cut it, which allows the whey to come out. Drier cheeses are often cut more to form smaller curds, so more of the moisture comes out, while curds cut less are larger and are moister. Once the curds are cut, they’re stirred and heated to release even more whey. At this point, the curd is separated from the whey, and it’s time to start making the cheese look more like cheese! Depending on the type of cheese, this can happen one of two ways:
- The curd is salted, and then it’s pressed in a form. This is the case for Cheddar and Colby cheeses.
- The curd is pressed into a hoop, which is brined. This occurs with mozzarella and Swiss cheeses.
While the cheese is pressed, more whey comes out, so it eventually becomes the shape and consistency of cheeses we know.
Once the cheese is shaped, it may be aged for a while before its ready to eat.
Want to see it in action? We sent a team to Fiscalini Farms in Modesto, California, to learn more about how they make their award-winning cheeses.
According to dairy farmer Brian Fiscalini, world-class cheese comes from stellar milk. From there, the cheese travels to the cheese plant and the magic begins. To learn more, watch this video: