The ripening or culture of milk is necessary for the ancient process of cheese-making. If you are just beginning your journey of making your own dairy goods, you may be unfamiliar with cheese cultures.
Additionally, the variety of cheese cultures available may be too much for you to handle when you start making cheese for the first time. However, the process doesn’t have to be as daunting as it might seem if you know what they are, how they work, and which one to choose to reach your desired cheese.
What Are Cheese Cultures?
These are a collection of unique bacterial strains combined to create a particular type of cheese. In addition, they aid in the growth of beneficial bacteria in milk, which results in a cheese flavour that is more complex and rich. Every cheese culture completes the same fundamental task: they all increase the acidity of milk by absorbing lactose, a naturally occurring sugar found in milk, and converting it to lactic acid.
This part is particularly beneficial in the cheese-making process for three reasons:
The acid helps the milk split into smaller particles to make curds, a necessary cheese component.
Lactic acid makes the milk more acidic by consuming its sugar.
The cheese then starts developing its distinctive flavour, texture, and smell.
Cheese cultures are essential to cheese preservation as they’re to the making itself. They help stop the growth of harmful bacteria that could spoil the cheese and reduce its shelf life. Cheese lasts longer than milk because of this! The beneficial bacteria in these products weaken the existing bacteria while assisting the rennet or coagulant in setting the cheese.
Additionally, cheese culture has a significant impact on the flavour and consistency of the cheese. Cheeses wouldn’t have their distinctive rich flavour, texture, aroma, or taste without a culture.
Simply put, cheese cultures are critical to the creation of cheese, the distinctive flavour and texture of some types of cheese, and the preservation of cheese.
How Are They Classified?
The temperature at which they function, the kinds of bacteria strains they contain, and the proportion of each strain present can all help distinguish cheese cultures, even though most of them share many of the same characteristics. The bacteria strain kind and the proportion of each strain will change depending on the type of cheese you want to make.
The temperature at which they function allows for the classification of cheese cultures. The two most popular kinds of cultures for cheese are:
The best conditions for this particular variety are moderate or medium temperatures up to 32°C. It is perfect for creating a variety of hard cheeses, including Monterey, Cheddar, Jack, Edam, and Gouda. Since most cheeses you can’t heat to a high temperature are produced using the mesophilic culture, it’s the more common type of the two.
As a heat-loving bacteria, this variety type thrives in warmer temperatures between 20 and 50 °C. You can use it to create a variety of cheeses that can withstand higher temperatures, including Mozzarella, Parmesan, Provolone, Swiss, Romano, and more.
The range of growth and flavour production for each culture not only that it depends on temperature but also on the number of bacterial strains used and their proportion.
Starter Culture vs. Non-Starter Culture While some fresh, unaged cheeses (such as cream cheese, cottage cheese, rennet, etc.) don’t need a starter culture, most cheeses need some kind of starter culture. Lactic acid bacteria, also known as LABs, are specially cultivated bacteria used as starter cultures to initiate the cheese-making process. These are excellent if you’re a beginner or are just looking for an easy way to start making your cheese!
Non-starter culture, on the other hand, is composed of microbial species that are less common in curds and grow under conditions that differ from those of their counterparts. Because of its ability to endure a hostile environment, this culture controls the cheese microbiota during the ripening process. It has a significant impact on curd maturation and helps to shape the cheese’s final characteristics.
How to Choose a Cheese Culture?
Pick a Recipe First
To put it mildly, the variety of cheese cultures available can be overwhelming if you’re new to making cheese. It is much easier to decide first what type of cheese you want to make and then use the cheese culture specified in that cheese recipe rather than trying to choose a cheese culture and then find a recipe.
A few cheese recipes are excellent for novices (some don’t even call for a cheese culture!) Once you’ve chosen a recipe, check the ingredients list to see which cheese culture it requires.
What If the Recipe Doesn’t Specify Culture?
A general rule of thumb is to pay attention to the inoculation temperature during the ripening process if your recipe does not specify the type of cheese culture you need or if you are in the mood to try out different things. We advise using a mesophilic culture for temperatures up to 32 °C. For temperatures between 20 and 50 °C, use thermophilic cultures.
It comes down to personal preference when a recipe gives you a choice between using packets or a bulk starter. Both will produce tasty cheese!
Are Cheese Cultures Healthy?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods and beverages that help improve gut health and contain a variety of digestive enzymes. Consuming kefir, yogurt, and even some types of cheeses in moderation are all dietary supplements that can improve your general well-being.
Many vital vitamins and minerals are present in some cheeses, including cottage cheese, feta, parmesan, Swiss, and mozzarella. For example, cheese is a fantastic source of protein, has lots of healthy fats, supports muscle growth and immunity, is high in vitamin B12 (essential for energy and nervous system health), and much more.
You get twice as many nutrients if you make your own cheese or any of these products at home because they contain more bacterial strains than commercially produced products and are typically higher in vitamin content overall.