pH Meter – Do You Need One?

By on 23/07/2012

cheese makingMany new home cheese makers are surprised to discover that you don’t need a whole lot of fancy, technical equipment to make cheese.

Sure, you can go all out and buy the best of the best and get everything you could possibly want and need to make cheese, but you can also start making cheese with just a few basic tools and the right ingredients, and without spending a whole lot of money.

And let’s be honest, people have been making cheese at home for thousands of years with the most basic equipment and it’s worked out pretty well. I’m sure there were plenty of funky failures, but their efforts have brought us most of the wonderful cheeses we enjoy today.

With that said, there may come a time when you either become curious about understanding more about what’s going on with your cheese during the make, or you want to start aiming for a more consistent success rate with each cheese you make. This is particularly important if you decide to start selling your cheese because if you make great cheese that your customers love, they will be back for more and you want to be able to provide them the cheese they are expecting.

A pH Meter is one piece of equipment that can improve your cheese making results.

Working to determined pH levels, measured by a pH Meter, will help you to track what’s going on with your cheese making, and give you information that will make it easier to refine your cheese production, and more consistently create a true to type end product.

How Do pH Levels Affect Cheese Making?

During the cheese making process the lactose in milk is turned into lactic acid by the starter cultures.

That lactic acid is what creates the signature flavours and textures of your cheese.

As the cultures do their work, with the right amount of heat and time the acidity levels of the milk and curd raise, changing the pH levels.

There comes a point during this process when a preferred level of acidity is reached. This level is considered optimum for setting up the signature flavour and texture of the cheese you are making.

In most cheese making recipes, temperatures and times that are given as a guide to help you to achieve the correct levels of acidity and ensure you get something that resembles a good home made cheese.

In fact, a lot of home cheese making books won’t reference pH levels. There is sense in keeping things simple and not putting new cheese makers off but making it all look too technical.

But if you really want all the facts and know for sure you are hitting the right mark, testing the pH levels will tell you what you need to know.

Testing pH Levels

The thing that trips a lot of people up with measuring pH levels is knowing which way they are going. Is a higher number better, or a lower number?

Here’s the deal:

  • The higher your pH level – the lower your acidity

So obviously…

  • The lower your pH level – the higher your acidity

To expand on that, acidity charts normally show the following:

  • Values of around 7.0 are netural pH
  • Values above 7.0 are alkaline
  • Values below 7.0 are acidic

Typically the pH levels sought after for cheese range between 5.1 and 5.7 but if you are at the point of testing pH levels, you will likely have a recipe with the levels you should be aiming for and there are different levels required for different types of cheese as well as for different steps in the making process.

How To Test pH Levels

The two most common ways to test pH levels are to use a pH Meter or pH Strips.

A pH meter looks like a high tech thermometer and the testing end (often referred to as the probe) is dipped into the milk or whey. Within a few seconds it provides a reading of the current pH level and is easy to use with accurate results.

pH strips are dipped into the milk or whey, and react to create a certain colour depending on the pH level present. The final colour is then compared to a chart to assess what pH level your cheese is currently sitting at. They tend to be expensive over time and not terribly accurate, which is why advanced home cheese makers often invest in a pH Meter instead.

Full instructions on how to use both options will be included when you purchase but essentially, both are dipped into the milk or the whey for a short period of time to achieve a pH reading.

So, do you need to rush out and invest in a pH meter?

That’s obviously up to you. If you are really set on getting consistent, uniform results either for sale, or just want to cater to your perfectionist tendencies (don’t worry, I have them too) then why not?

Sure, you can get on with your cheese making, perfectly well without one, but if you decide that this hobby is really for you, and you want to expand your knowledge of exactly what is happening during your cheese making, then go for it.

Otherwise, keep practicing, keep experimenting and enjoy the sometimes random, but often wonderful results of home cheese making : )

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2 Comments

  1. David

    17/08/2012 at 9:39 am

    I am pretty new to cheese making, however I am particular, I wouldn’t say a perfectionist (that‘s just what my wife likes to say). That being said I do want to monitor the ph levels of my cheese during the process. My question is how much do I have to spend on a meter, and do you have a suggestion for one? I am very exited to find this website.

    Thanks for all the info, David

    • curdnerd

      31/08/2012 at 7:07 pm

      Hi David

      The pH meter I use is the one on my resources page. To be honest, I have found that the cheaper ones are less accurate, but at the same time, preference seems to come from trial and error for most people.

      Best of luck with your cheese making! I don’t thinks there’s any issue with being a perfectionist at all. It all helps when it comes to cheese making : )

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