How Are Cheeses Made?

Cheesemaking is an ancient and delicate process, dating way, way back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians over 5,000 years ago. Cheese was stored in jars and entombed with dynasty kings, showing how valuable it was even all those millennia ago.

One could argue that cheesemaking is one of the world’s oldest art forms, with its techniques and traditions passed down through generations as skillfully as sculpting or playing the piano. The journey from fresh milk to a matured cheese wheel is a delicate process, intertwining nature, science, and craft. Let’s cut some of our favourite cheese, pair it with some farmhouse charcuterie meat and savoury crackers, and tuck into this step-by-step on how your cheese is made.

Preparing The Milk

Cheese begins its life as milk from mammals, typically cows, goats, or sheep. The essence of the final product is deeply connected to the environment in which these animals live and their diet. For example, the Friesian cows that produce Isle of Mull cheese are fed on discarded fermented grain from the local whisky distillery, imparting a distinctive flavour to the cheese that evokes the distillery in which this cheddar is made.

Artisan cheesemakers take pride in sourcing their milk locally. This not only captures the terroir – the sense of place – but also supports sustainable practices. Unlike industrial cheesemakers, who dominate supermarket shelves with mass-produced products, artisans focus on environmental consciousness and the distinctiveness of their cheeses.

Curdling The Milk

Turning milk into cheese involves separating it into curds, which will become cheese, and whey, the liquid byproduct. This process starts by gently heating the milk to around 32°C. Coagulation follows, with the addition of rennet and starter cultures. These lactic acid-forming bacteria convert lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, causing the milk to curdle. It should be noted that rennet is traditionally derived from animal sources, but can also be vegetarian, made from plants, microbial sources, or genetically modified organisms. After coagulation, the milk is left undisturbed until it achieves a pudding-like consistency, setting the stage for the next steps.

Cutting The Curd and Draining the Whey

Once the curd has formed, it is cut into pieces using wires, allowing the whey to drain out. The size of these pieces influences the cheese's final texture – smaller pieces result in harder cheeses due to more whey being expelled. At this stage, the curd must be kept in constant motion to prevent it from bonding, which helps remove excess water, leaving behind the concentrated curd ready to be shaped.

Shaping the Cheese

After the whey is sufficiently drained, the curd is broken up and often salted. Salt acts as an all-in-one magic powder - a flavour enhancer, preservative and inhibitor of unwanted bacterial growth.

Then, the curd is placed into moulds to shape it. Pressing the curd helps it consolidate into a homogeneous texture, removing the last traces of whey. The cheeses are then removed from the moulds, often clothbound as is tradition in Britain, and taken to cool, humid storage rooms to mature.

Ageing the Cheese

Ageing is a crucial phase where the cheese develops its unique character. In artisan cheesemaking, especially with unpasteurised cheese, mould growth really takes on a life of its own. It’s why every block of artisan cheese is completely idiosyncratic, as it is allowed to take on its terroir as much as possible, and you get a document of the type and diet of the mammals. The cheese becomes a passport telling you the journey it has been on.

Why Is Cheese Aged?

Ageing intensifies cheese flavours, using cheese mites that feed on the cheese's surface. These mites break down proteins and fats, releasing complex flavours and aromas unique to each cheese. The mould on cheeses like blue cheese contributes to their potent flavours, creating their distinguished blue veins.

How Is Cheese Aged?

Ageing occurs in specially controlled environments where temperature and humidity are managed meticulously. The type of storage – be it a stone room, a cave or wherever else – influences the cheese's flavour profile and texture. During this period, the rind forms as bacteria develop on the cheese's surface. Cheesemakers periodically turn the cheese to ensure even rind development. Depending on the variety, this entire process can range from a few weeks to over a year. Time hardens the cheese, which is why soft cheeses take just a couple of weeks and hard cheeses take over 18 months to age fully.

Sending it to Our Shop

Once aged, the cheeses are packed up and shipped to us at Rennet and Rind. We store our cheeses in our dedicated maturing room, allowing them to develop further under the care of myself: two-time Affineur of the Year, Perry Wakeman. This step imparts our own twist to each cheese, meaning you’ll get an award-winning experience that’s impossible to get anywhere else. Whether you choose to savour them on a cheese platter or incorporate them into your culinary creations, our cheeses are ready to bring a taste of tradition and craftsmanship to your table.

Uncover the World of Artisan Cheese with Rennet and Rind

For those keen to delve deeper into the world of artisan cheese, Rennet and Rind is a sanctuary for connoisseurs and newbies alike. Showcasing the finest in British cheesemaking, our selection of award-winning artisan cheeses offers a chance to support and celebrate local cheesemakers.

For those looking to learn and indulge at the same time, consider our Mystery Cheese Box. A monthly box of five cheeses curated by me, it’s the perfect way to get a wide scope of what British independent cheesemakers have to offer for you. Begin your exploration of the UK's finest cheeses at Rennet and Rind.

Perry James Wakeman

Head Cheesemonger of Rennet & Rind. Qualified MonS Affineur, World Cheese Awards Judge and Patron/Trainer of The Academy of Cheese.

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