Most of the milk cheesemakers use to create cheese comes from a cow. Goats and sheep provide the majority of the remaining base ingredient.
We like to think that these animals spend leisurely days in the pasture, eating some grass. Some of them might consume grain primarily, while others might see nutritional differences because of sunlight exposure, soil quality, or water availability.
Even the climate where an animal lives can impact the quality of the milk received.
When you know where the best milk is in your area, it is easier to make excellent cheese.
Why Did We Start Making Cheese?
While farmers tended to their livestock, they began to collect more milk than they needed for daily consumption. Since the product would spoil quickly, our wise ancestors looked for ways to preserve this food item for future use.
Yogurt and butter were likely the first discoveries. Cottage cheese came not long after. When someone figured out that milk solids and liquids can separate when using rennet, it changed how we farm, eat, and live.
As farmers learned how to drain and press curds, they experimented with ways to preserve these products. Every cheese recipe we use today started with an idea to try something different.
Each culture added its flavors and ideas to create a broad selection of cheeses to enjoy. When Louis Pasteur developed the heat-treatment processes to make milk easier to bring to the market, cheesemaking took a giant leap forward.
That’s why knowing how an animal lives is essential information for home cheesemakers. Poor milk leads to terrible cheese!
How Does Climate Affect Milk Production?
Most livestock don’t get to sit in a lush, green meadow chewing grass all day. We have pastures in deserts, on rocky hills, sparse prairies, and multi-generational farms. The diversity of life for cows, goats, and sheep can be healthy, but it also leads to questionable milk quality in some regions.
Some areas are well-known for providing excellent pastures and high-quality dairy products. Others may have marginal supports, while most products tend to fall between those extremes.
The quality of the soil and the nutrients it contains are the most essential features to consider. Dirt is dynamic! What it contains gets passed to the grasses that the animals eat, eventually leading to the cheese we all consume.
Even altitude is a screening factor to consider for some milk products. Animals that graze at higher elevations tend to provide better milk, but for a shorter time because the growing season has fewer days.
What Milk Is the Best for Home Cheesemakers?
Milk that comes from animals that have the freedom to graze at-will and move when they want is what you need for excellent cheese.
Confined cows, goats, and sheep with a restricted diet may produce more milk, but it has less color and nutrients. Fresh pastures provide more carotene, trapping it in the fat to create more luxurious creams and golden tones in the fluid.
You’ll see higher ratios of omega-3s and omega-6s with pasture-fed animals. The improvements eventually let you create some fantastic cheese.
Can I Buy Milk at the Store to Make Cheese?
Any milk can get turned into cheese when you have the right ingredients to use.
When milk goes through the pasteurization process, it loses many of the healthy elements you need for the cheesemaking process. Adding calcium chloride to the fluid before starting a recipe can help you to restore the quality of the product to make excellent cheese.
Local farms that provide raw milk are your best option for cheesemaking. You have more guarantees of quality, support the economy, and enjoy the process more. Even a supply chain that only uses moderate processing is better than something from an ultra-pasteurized resource.