Which Milk Is Best For Cheese Making?

By on 22/08/2011

Camembert

If you’ve been making cheese for any period of time you’re probably aware of the conversations about raw milk versus pasteurized milk, or perhaps you’ve already started thinking about it from your own perspective.

If you do a quick Google search on raw milk vs pasteurized milk you can get lost in the plethora of information and sometimes heated debate about this subject very easily.

But what’s the fuss all about and how does it relate to Cheese Making?

Let’s first define which milk is which.

Raw Milk – this is milk straight from the source be it cow, goat, sheep or even buffalo. It is full of natural bacteria and organisms.

Pasteurized Milk – this is milk which has been heat treated to up to 172 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds or more in order to destroy any undesirable bacteria present.

Ultra Pasteurized (UP) Milk -  much of the milk in the grocery stores, unfortunately, is ultra-pasteurized which means it is heated up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 1 second. All natural organisms in the milk, including those that are beneficial, are killed with this treatment.

Ultra High Temperature (UHT) Sterilization Milk – milk treated to 280 degrees Fahrenheit which again, renders it totally free of all bacteria, good or bad.

So how does pasteurized milk affect cheese making?

Pasteurization involves heating the milk to a high temperature and then rapidly cooling it. The purpose of pasteurization is to kill unwanted bacteria including Listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella as well as give the milk a longer shelf life, which is of course more economically sound for suppliers. Some suspect this is now the primary reason for suppliers pasteurizing their product, rather than any real need for the control of bacteria (assuming most commercial milk comes from quality, regulated farms with tested, healthy animals), but this post isn’t here to add to that debate.

The pasteurization process means that beneficial, natural bacteria are also completely removed from the milk and therefore are also devoid in the resulting cheese.

In addition, with heat treating the natural enzymes and proteins in the milk are killed or damaged and because the whey proteins have been altered as part of the process the curd you get tends to be slightly weaker, requiring the addition of products such as Calcium Chloride as a remedy.

Finally, pasteurization definitely changes the flavor of the milk and therefore also the flavor of the cheese. Pasteurized milk has a slightly cooked taste which imparts its flavor into the final cheese. Raw milk cheese has a much more fresh and complex flavor and a good raw milk cheese is normally a more superior cheese than a good cheese made with pasteurized milk.

Which is why raw milk is considered by many cheese makers to be the absolute best option for making cheese.

One thing is certain, and that is that it is not recommended to use Ultra Pasteurized Milk or UHT Milk at all. Neither will give you good results when making cheese and it is worth making the effort to source even a good quality (preferably Organic) pasteurized milk rather than use these products for cheese making.

What can sway the decision for cheese makers, about whether to use raw milk or not, is if you are considering selling your cheeses. Depending on which country you live in, raw milk products may or may not be legally sold while some regions will allow raw milk cheese to be sold, but only after it has been aged for a certain minimum duration.

If you do decide to use Raw milk for cheese making, ensure that you know that the animals the milk comes from are healthy and ethically farmed and that the milk has been sourced and stored in exceptionally clean conditions.

What About Homogenization?

Homogenization breaks down the butterfat in milk to allow it to integrate in with the rest of the milk rather than sitting on the top. It does cause minor damage to the milk but not nearly as much as pasteurization.

If you still want to play it on the safe side, you can pasteurize your raw milk at home.

This process can still reduce the amount of good bacteria but the structure of the milk isn’t damaged as severely with home pasteurization due to a lower heating temperature than used by commercial milk manufacturers.

To pasteurize your raw milk at home heat it to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes then cool down to cheese making temperature if using straight away or cool rapidly and then refrigerate if using later.

I’m interested in your thoughts on raw milk cheese versus cheese made with other milk products. Let’s not get too heated (mind the pun) here but your comments are always appreciated.

16 Comments

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  3. Bob-White Systems

    22/11/2011 at 10:00 am

    Hi – It’s always interesting to read more about raw v. pasteurized in cheesemaking. Just a small point of clarification – not all pasteurized milk is the same, as you alluded to.

    We make a Low Impact Pasteurizer that gently heats milk to 163F for just 15 seconds, effectively pasteurizing it while maintaining the flavor, texture and nutritional values.

    The end product is ideal, if not superior to raw, for cheese making, butter and yogurt. Learn more at bobwhitesystems.com

    Thanks!

    • curdnerd

      19/01/2012 at 10:15 am

      Hi, and thanks for visiting Curd-Nerd.

      I agree, not all pasteurised milk is equal, and although it might seem I am suggesting this is the case, my post was really just covering the general rule rather than the exceptions. Here in New Zealand we have some great products that are pastuerised in a much more gentle way but they are hard to find and generally quite expensive.

      I’m really pleased to learn of another manufacturer providing an alternative to the bulk milk options available to most people.

      Thank you for your comment.

  4. Judy Skinner

    22/01/2012 at 10:59 pm

    I’m really enjoying this website- just discovered it!
    We live on 13 acres and have a house cow- Jessie the Jersey. Her milk comes straight up from the cow shed to the kitchen at 32 degrees- optimum cheese temperature!
    And just right for yoghurt too. Why heat it twice?

    Raw milk definitely gives a much richer taste and has a softer quality to work with,( hard to describe but sort of like hard and soft water. ) you know it’s alive.

    I usually make Cheddar, Feta, Camembert and Blue.Most of my equipment is homemade- camembert hoops are sections of plastic down pipe and my husband made me a great press; he also bought an old fridge and altered the temp settings for cheese ripening.

    • curdnerd

      29/01/2012 at 1:12 pm

      Hi Judy

      Thank you for your comment : ) I am super jealous of your fresh milk supply!

      I agree, Raw milk gives a delightful rich taste and working with the milk is a pleasure. As you say, you can almost sense the living organisms in it.

      Good on you for making do with home made equipment. There is no need for cheese making to be a super expensive hobby when we can make do with items we already have around the home and create perfectly good cheese presses with a bit of DIY knowledge.

      Happy cheese making! : )

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  8. richard

    14/11/2012 at 9:47 pm

    The debate will always continue, but well fed cows are the key… not always the case on many farms. We are a small boutique dairy company out of Hawkes Bay, with a plentiful supply of pasteurised (not homegenised) milk. Just ask the locals. we ship to Auckland and Wellington twice a week.
    Have a read of our website… it IS basic but you will get the idea…. we put our energy into product quality.

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  10. Lucy

    21/03/2013 at 7:16 am

    I am in Florida I wold like to know what will be a good milk to make cheese

    • Curd-Nerd

      17/07/2013 at 5:03 pm

      Hi

      Unfortunately I can’t help you with this, as I am in a different country and don’t know what milks are available in Florida. Good milk is the key to good cheese though so perhaps other Florida based Curd-Nerds might be able to help with this answer???

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  12. Biddy Fraser-Davies

    12/02/2014 at 3:24 pm

    Unfortunately at the moment MPI compel me to thermise my milk before cheese making (as it is made to sell). This is a far gentler form of heat treating than pasteurisation but it still kills the natural pathogen inhibitor systems in fresh milk -there are 3 enzymes which work in conjunction with each other to inhibit the growth of any pathogenic bacteria present in the milk. It is called the lactoperoxidase system and consists of lactoperoxidase, thiocyanate and hydrogen peroxide. You need all three for it to work properly. It does seem daft that a government department compels the artisan cheesemaker in NZ to waste time, energy and effort in making an inferior cheese and, in the process, making it more vulnerable to subsequent contamination! MPI will tell you that you can legally make raw cheese for sale in NZ, but unfortunately the compliance regime makes it totally uneconomic unless you are just up the road from a testing laboratory. For me, just the courier costs in getting raw milk, curd and the cheese samples to the lab would cost around $150 a week!!
    A note to Judy: the reason plastic downpipes are frowned on for cheese making is the fat content in the milk (particularly rich Jersey milk, and yes, all 4 of my lovely cows are Jersey) cause some rather nasty and unhealthy chemicals to leach out of the plastic and into the cheese. Not good. You should either use food grade plastic or stainless steel. I use pasta cookers -the perforated sort that fit into a saucepan- in various sizes, and they make really excellent cheese moulds. The Warehouse also has small stainless steel cutlery drainers for about $5 which I use as rammers in the press, but I’m sure they could be used as small cheese moulds.

    • Curd-Nerd

      18/06/2014 at 10:40 am

      Hi Biddy, thanks for your great responses to questions raised here at Curd Nerd. You obviously have an excellent knowledge of cheese making processes and your help to our users is appreciated. Look forward to seeing more of your responses : )

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