Choosing Milk and Cream with FAQs

This guide will help you learn about different types of milk, how it is processed, what to look for when selecting good milk for cheese making and so much more. From store bought to raw and everything in-between, this guide includes information on all aspects of milk and cream. You can also check out our Good Milk List to find good milk near you.

Increasing the Butterfat in Milk 

Q. I'm unable to find a dairy that is willing to sell me raw milk, I'm very sad. My question is, how much heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized) needs to be added to a gallon of 4% milk to get it anywhere near the average Jersey cow's milk?

A. About 3 - 4 oz of heavy cream. However, if you are making cheese, the normal milk will not hold the extra butterfat because the protein base has not been increased. Store bought milk is usually 3.25%.

Decreasing the Butterfat in Milk

Q. I am new to cheese making. l am buying raw milk, it is very high-fat. Can you tell me how to control the fat content in cheese?

A. In most milk, the cream will rise if you allow the milk to rest at a cool temperature (below 60°F for at least 6 to 8 hours).

You should then be able to carefully skim some of the butterfat off. This is usually done for Alpine and Parma style cheeses. The cream can then be used for making sour cream or butter.

Q. I have access to raw farm milk and I want to make Parmesan. All the recipes suggest half skim and half full cream. I'm not sure how I should approach this, as I'm not sure of the fat content of the milk.

A. A lot will depend on the amount of butterfat in the milk. The usual process (with Jersey milk) would be to bring in about two-thirds of the milk the night before and let the cream rise at a cool temperature. The next morning, you would skim the cream from that and bring in fresh full-fat to add to the skimmed milk.

Jersey milk is high in fat, so if your milk is not so high in fat, move towards 50:50 on the split.

Mixing Two Types of Milk

Q. I'm looking at your Ricotta Salata recipe. Can I use 25% goat's and 75% cow's milk? Or perhaps 50-50? 

A. You can mix the two kinds of milk, but the taste will be very different. With this cheese, you want high butterfat content, and goat milk has less butterfat than cow or sheep milk. 

Testing Acid Levels in Raw Milk

Q. Is there a way to test the acid level in raw milk? I am afraid to use raw milk because I don't know how much culture to add.

A. You can determine this by using an acid testing kit, pH meter or pH testing strips. Fresh raw milk should be at .16 - .18% titratable acidity (TA). If the milk has a high natural culture load, it may be slightly higher. The pH level for cold fresh milk should be about 6.7.

If the milk reaches a TA level of .19 - .20%, it would be better to make a higher acid curd production cheese, like cottage cheese. 

The other factor in raw milk is the natural enzymes which begin changing the protein and fat components shortly after the milk has been collected. Our rule of thumb, with raw milk, is to use it within 48 hours.

Once you find a good source of fresh, raw milk, you should be able to determine the right culture and rennet amounts within a few batches of cheese. Usually, we start with about 30% less culture than is used in a pasteurized milk cheese and adjust as needed for the next batch.

Goat Milk vs. Cow Milk

Q. Will all cheese making recipes work with fresh goat milk?

A. Goat milk is not standardized like cow's milk from the store. You may need to make some changes after the first batch.

A lot depends on the particular herd, but here are some general considerations:

  • Goat milk typically needs 25-50% less rennet
  • Raw milk is more active, so it needs less culture. This is true for any type of raw milk; goat, cow or sheep.
  • Goat milk may need a slightly lower temperature for each recipe step.

Goat milks composition changes dramatically throughout the season. Summer milk has a low fat content, fall milk has a high fat content. Summer milk is superior to fall milk when making hard cheeses because high fat content can lead to spoilage issues when aging. Also, slightly more culture is needed with higher fat milk.

Q. I make a soft cheese on a regular basis with cow milk. I have no issues, it comes out the same every time. I tried the same cheese with goat milk, and it was a disaster. I let the curds set for the specified amount of time, but the final cheese was way too moist. The cheese I am making was a lactic style cheese made with Flora Danica and a small amount of rennet. What can I do to help next time? 

A. Going back and forth between the goat milk and cow will usually mean changes in culture amounts and curd development timing. You may also need to adjust culture based on the time of year, and fat content. Higher fat will cause the curd to hold more moisture, which will make it difficult to drain. Developing more acid will help with this.

As this is a lactic style cheese, always wait for the whey to rise slightly (approx. 2/8-1/4”) on top of the curd, to ensure that enough acidity has formed.

Also, don’t go just by time for a firm curd; always check it before cutting. Some milks may take longer to reach a firm curd stage. 

Camel Milk

Q. I am a camel breeder and have some camel milk every day. Do you have a suggestion for recipe that I can make to produce camel cheese?

A. We do not have access to camel milk ourselves, and as such, we do not have any experience with using it. However, we do have the following blog article, which was written by a woman who had gotten a bit of camel milk to work with. 

Making Camel Milk Cheese by Becca Heins

Sheep Milk

Q. I want to make cheese with my sheep's milk. Are there adjustments I need to make?

A. Ewes milk is often the most variable, depending on breed, stage of lactation, and season. Ewes milk also contains higher fat, which will result in a higher yield. You will likely need to do some trials, taking the following into consideration: 

Less Rennet: You can use slightly less rennet than what is needed with cow and goat milk. Try scaling back by about 10-15% to start.

Less Time: It will likely take less time for the curd to set. 

Lower Temp: You may not need to take the temperatures as high in some recipes with this type of milk. 

Higher Yield: You will get a higher volume of curd from sheep milk, due to the higher fat content. Keep this in mind when planning your batch size. 

Lactose Free Milk for 30 Minute Mozzarella

Q. Will lactose-free milk work for 30 Minute Mozzarella

A. Normally, lactose-free milk will not work for cheese making because the live bacteria (cultures) need the lactose to feed on and convert to lactic acid. However, since our 30 minute recipe is not based on live culture, it should theoretically work. The problem is that most of the lactose-free milks we have worked with (such as Lactaid) are high-temp processed and the proteins have been damaged to the point where the milk will not make a good curd. We have only had marginal success our own trials.

Powdered Milk

Q. I have a lot of powdered milk which I need to use up. I have successfully made yogurt with it but would like to make other cheeses. Can I use powdered milk to make cheese, even cottage cheese or cream cheese?

A. Yes, you can, as long as it's non-fat powdered milk. Whole milk powder tends to go rancid on the storage shelf. You can add some cream to the milk when you make it up. Do realize, however, that due to the processing, it will never be quite the quality of fresh milk.

How to Skim Cream from Milk

Q. I have a Jersey cow and I do not pasteurize my milk. What can I do to have a choice of either heavy cream or light cream? The only difference I have noticed is the older the cream, the thicker.

A. Your choice of Jerseys is great for cream since they have the largest fat globules and thus, their cream will rise to the surface nicely.

The difference between older cream and fresh cream for skimming, is the level of bacterial activity. Cream tends to thicken as the natural bacteria develops.

First allow the milk to sit quietly overnight to allow the cream to rise to the top. To skim the cream, use a large, flat spoon about 3-4" in diameter and about 3/4" deep. Gently dip the edge of the spoon into the cream until cream flows in, then empty the cream into a clean container. Continue this process, moving forward across the pot, until most of the cream is removed from the surface. 

If you want a lighter cream, allow some milk to flow into the spoon along with the cream. It's hard to determine the actual fat % of your final cream. After some practice, it will be easier to gauge the amount of cream to ladle off for your specific cheese making needs.

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