Back in the day, an important part of getting a good, tasty cheese meant having the right ingredients and conditions to nurture your own cultures, or to have had an established one shared with you to use.
These were, and still are, known as mother cultures. But what is cheese culture? Cheese culture is a lactic bacteria. This lactic bacteria when added to milk digests lactose to produce lactic acid and this is what causes curds to form.
Without them, you could make a sour, coagulated milk cheese but certainly could not create anything that is like the cheeses most of us enjoy today.
Technology has changed all that.
Now, not only can we buy bulk, ready prepared starter cultures to use as we like, even if you don’t have a cheese making supply store locally, you can jump online and with the click of a few buttons have cheese cultures winging their way to you within a few days.
But that hasn’t solved one home cheese making problem.
The Cost Of Cultures
One of the most expensive parts of home cheese making is buying the starter cultures and even though you only use a small amount for each cheese you make, the packets don’t last that long when you make cheese regularly and the costs start adding up.
Which brings many home cheese makers to the point of asking themselves whether they can create their own cultures, and make their cheese making more economical.
Obviously there are clear benefits of purchasing commercial starter cultures.
They tend to be truer to type, they are produced so as to be free of any unwanted contaminants and you can usually rely on them doing what they are supposed to, as long as they haven’t expired or been compromised in any way.
But there are also benefits of creating your own.
By far the best reason for heading down this path, as mentioned, is the cost.
You can save a lot of money by taking one small amount of purchased starter culture to make your own mother culture, and then continue to re-culture from that first batch, without spending another cent.
And a lot of cheese can be made from each batch of culture, if you store it properly. So the cost savings soon become apparent when you no longer have to keep stocking up on DVI cultures.
You will also have easy access to as much starter culture as you need, without worrying about store supplies or time to deliver from internet suppliers, and you can enjoy keeping things more natural with a start to finish cheese making process.
How To Make Mesophilic Culture
Before you begin, it is important to note that cleanliness is as important, if not more so, when preparing mother cultures, as it is when you make your cheese.
- Sterilise a preserving jar and lid by boiling them in water for 5 minutes or cleaning them then putting them in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
- Cool the jar then fill it with fresh, unpasteurised, skimmed milk, leaving ½ inch of head space.
- Close the lid tightly.
- Place the jar in a deep pot with the water level ½ inch above the lid of the jar.
- Bring the water in the pot to the boil then leave it on a slow boil for 30 minutes.
- Remove the jar from the water and let it cool to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add the appropriate amount of freeze dried mesophilic starter culture (depending on manufacturers instructions) to the milk while still at 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Close the lid tightly again and gently swish the jar to mix the culture into the milk.
- Place the jar somewhere that will keep the milk at 75 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-24 hours.
- After approximately 18 hours you should see a solid white gel forming. If not, leave it for longer, or place the jar somewhere warmer to encourage the coagulation.
- When the culture is ready, it should look like a thick yoghurt. It will pull away from the sides of the jar cleanly and have a glossy surface.
How To Make Thermophilic Culture
Making Thermophilic culture is just as easy as making Mesophilic culture.
Follow the same directions as above but obviously add a Thermophilic culture to the milk instead of a Mesophilic culture.
Also, allow the milk to cool to, and incubate at, 110 degrees Fahrenheit, for only 6-8 hours instead of the longer period for a Mesophilic culture.
Otherwise, the process is similar and, with the right care and conditions, will result in a batch of homegrown Thermophilic culture ready for use.
Cheese Cultures Care
Once you’ve made your mother culture, leave it in the jar and place it in the fridge.
It should be used within a week, but if you want to store the culture for later use you can freeze it in ice cube trays and then pop out the cubes to store in freezer bags for up to 6 months.
Just remember to label your culture with what type it is, and the date you made it.
Then when you are ready to make your next lot of cheese, simply use one block for every 2 gallons (or 10 litres) of milk.
You can also use these blocks to start a new culture, using the same directions above, except using a block of your mother culture instead of the DVI cultures to inoculate the milk.
When Good Cheese Cultures Go Bad
If for any reason your culture goes wrong then don’t use it.
If it doesn’t coagulate, despite the correct temperature and time period, or it has bubbles in it, then throw it out and start again.
A bad starter culture will just mean bad cheese and a lot of lost time.
Making your own starter cultures is a wonderful way to advance your home cheese making and to make this artisan craft even more economical.
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So, give it a go, and let us know how it turns out for you. As always, feedback, advice or questions are welcomed. Join the discussion over at the Curd Nerd Forum. We would love to hear from you!