How Cheese is Made

How cheese is made

Have you ever wondered how cheese is made? How a vat of liquid milk is transformed into buttery brick, creamy colby, marvelous mascarpone, or salty ricotta salata? Or how so many different cheeses can be made with just four ingredients – milk, salt, rennet, and cultures?

The cheesemaking process is surprisingly simple. Milk is treated with bacteria and rennet to curdle it. The curd is then cooked, salted, cut, pressed, brined, pulled, washed, stacked, or skewered with needles to create more than 1,800 different kinds of cheeses.

Here in the State of Cheese, everyone knows how cheese is made: by 1,200 of the best cheesemakers in the world. They've been making cheese here for 180 years, perfecting the recipes that settlers brought from their homelands and creating new kinds of cheeses the world can't live without. Today, they make more than 600 varieties, styles, and flavors of cheese – more than any other place on earth.

Take a tour of our website to meet some of our most famous cheeses and to find tips on how to pair them. Get answers to all your cheesy questions, like "What is burrata?", "How is parmesan cheese made?", and "Where has this cheese been all my life?" Or scroll down to learn more about how cheese is made in Wisconsin and throughout the world.

The cheesemaking process

Cheese starts as milk from cows, sheep, goats, or even buffalo, to which cheesemakers add a starter culture and rennet. The bacteria in the starter culture acidifies the milk, turning lactose into lactic acid which helps to give the cheese its flavor. And the rennet enzymes in cheese curdle the milk, separating it into solid curds and watery whey.

What happens next determines what kind of cheese the milk will become. To create certain soft cheeses, cheesemakers simply drain the curd, salt it, and package it. To make harder cheeses, the curd may be cut into small pieces and heated to force more moisture from the curd. Sometimes the curd is stretched and kneaded in hot water to create cheeses like mozzarella and provolone. It may be cut into blocks and repeatedly stacked and flipped to create cheddar cheese. It may be washed in warm water repeatedly to create cheeses like gouda and colby. Or it may be spiked with needles to allow bacteria within the curd to grow and form a blue cheese.

Eventually, most cheeses are pressed into a cheese mold and left to age for a few days to several years or more. The longer the cheese ages, the sharper and more complex its flavors will be.

Videos: Discover Your Next Favorite Cheese

FAQs on how cheese is made

What is cave-aged cheese?

Some cheeses are aged in caves where the consistent temperature and humidity are ideal for producing certain varieties.

What is smoked cheese?

Smoked cheese is a cheese that is exposed to smoke from a wood-burning fire to add flavor. Smoked cheese will also last longer without refrigeration.

What is starter culture?

Starter cultures are the bacteria that start the transformation of milk into cheese. The bacteria turn the natural lactose sugar in milk into lactic acid which begins to curdle the milk. By reducing lactose sugar in milk, the starter culture also prevents the growth of bad bacteria which need lactose sugar to thrive. The type of starter culture used in milk will have a significant impact on the eventual flavor, aroma, and texture of the cheese.

How cheese is made in Wisconsin

When you ask a Wisconsinite how cheese is made in their home state, you're likely to get this answer: "By the world's best experts."

We take cheese very seriously here. You need a license to make cheese in Wisconsin – you can't just go around making cheese on a whim in these parts. We're glad that we're the only state in the nation that requires such credentials, but we think the quality of our cheese is infinitely better for it.

The rest of the world is pretty gung-ho about Wisconsin Cheese as well. We make one-quarter of all the cheese sold in America, and nearly half of all the artisan cheese. And we've won more awards for our cheese than any other state in the country and any other country in the world.

So, next time you hear someone asking how cheese is made, you'll know exactly what to say: "Well, if it's the tastiest, highest quality, most award-winning cheese in the world, it must've been made in Wisconsin."

Craving award-winning aged cheddar, pining for parmesan, or searching for a new cheese to try? The world’s best cheese is just a click away! Explore our directory of Wisconsin cheesemakers and retailers who offer online cheese shopping and get cheese shipped right to your door. What are you waiting for?

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