A cheesemaker checking on wheels of cheese in a warehouse.

How Cheese is Made

The Basics of Cheesemaking

 
Cheese is a simple food made from natural ingredients starting with fresh local milk. Making natural cheese only requires four ingredients: fresh milk, salt, “good” bacteria, and rennet. Everything else that goes into making a stand-out cheese is the closely kept secret of the cheesemaker’s craft.
 
With the average Canadian consuming over 12 kg of cheese a year, it’s clear we love our cheese, but how many of us really understand the art of the cheesemaking process and how fresh cheese transforms into aged and specialty cheeses?
 

How is cheese made?

 

1. Great cheese begins with high-quality, fresh local milk that is typically slowly warmed.


2. Next, the milk is acidified either directly by adding citric acid or vinegar for a ricotta or mascarpone or by adding cultures or “good” bacteria. The cultures will consume the lactose or natural sugars in the milk, transforming it into lactic acid - an essential process that helps set the milk into curd, gives cheese its flavour, and ensures the cheese will be safe to eat as it ages.


3. Then, a coagulant is mixed in. The most common coagulant is rennet, an enzyme that helps bind the milk proteins, turning the milk into a gel-like consistency over time. At this point, the cheese has reached the curd stage.


4. The curd is cut down into smaller pieces. Smaller curd pieces will retain less moisture over the aging process and are ideal for aged cheeses.


5. Cut curd is then “washed” or stirred in a vat to extract some of the whey (this is a natural liquid protein that remains after milk has been curdled) and add in water. Depending on the type of cheese being made, the curds might be heated as they’re stirred to further encourage acid development and dry out the cheese.


6. After the washing process, the curds are quickly strained from the whey, leaving warm curd that can be reshaped into a wheel or pressed into a form, ready for salting. Cheese can be enjoyed immediately in its fresh form or aged for the deeper flavours and textures we all crave.


7. Aging cheese is where the craft and magic really happen. The unique textures and intense flavours aged cheeses are known for are achieved by introducing different bacterial cultures and salting methods. Cheesemakers watch over their cheeses as they age, tending to the cheese as it ages in specialized aging environments until it reaches perfection. 

Behind the Scenes


We were lucky enough to go behind the scenes at Mountainoak Cheese to watch the pros at work making their incredible artisanal cheeses!

Overlay image Video play icon

In Ontario, we’re absolutely spoiled by the quality and variety of artisan cheeses made in our communities. To find a cheesemaker near you, check out our Ontario Cheese Discovery Map!

Glass milk jug on its side next to a napkin, Dairy Farmers of Canada Blue cow logo next to it.

Identifying Ontario Cheese

Have you seen this cow? Many cheeses and dairy products display this logo to help consumers identify products made with 100% Canadian milk.
 

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