Basic Soft Curd

This is a the basic recipe from which most cheeses evolve.  Learn to make these curds well, and you’ll be able to transform them into camembert, blue cheese, mozzarella, cheddar, gouda and many other soft cheeses.  Techniques to make these cheeses all begin with soft cheese curds.

You’ll need good milk in order to make these curds.  Any highly processed milk loses its ability to make good curds.  Both the processes of pasteur-ization and homogenization affect the way that milk proteins transform into cheese.   Using milk that has not undergone such treatments is ideal;  the milk will respond better to the cheesemaking process.

If you cannot find unpasteurised (aka raw) milk locally because of availablity or legality, using pasteurized milk is okay.   But  if you cannot find unhomogenized milk, you will have to keep on looking – making cheese with homogenized milk is just not worthwhile.

Most supermarkets do not carry raw, or even unhomogenized milk (which is one of the big reasons I don’t shop at supermarkets). Here’s some tips to help you find the right milk:

– Raw milk:    In some states, one can purchase certified raw milk at grocery stores.  In other states, raw milk can only be purchased directly from farmers.  In most jurisdictions in North America, though, purchasing raw milk through any means is illegal.  Increasingly, consumers are finding ways around outdated raw milk regulation that don’t acknowledge that raw milk can be safe and nourishing, by purchasing milk directly from farmers that is labeled ‘for external use only’ , or by purchasing what are known as cow shares:  owning a share of a cow entitles the owner to a portion of the milk produced by that cow and thus avoids the illegality of selling raw milk.

– Un-Homogenized milk:  Nearly all grocery store milk is homogenized, and thus unsuited for cheesemaking.   Often one has to do a lot of label reading to find un-homogenized milk, and the labels are not always easy to decipher.  Non-homogenized milk may be found labeled as “unhomogenized”, or “standard”, or “cream on the top” or “whole” – though “whole” milk is often used as a label on whole fat,  homogenized milk.  Unhomogenized milk will separate naturally into cream and skim.  The very best indication that a milk is unhomogenized is that cream is clearly visible rising to the top of the milk.

I recommend getting yourself at least one gallon of good milk. Any less, and you’ll have trouble keeping the temperature of the pot warm, and you won’t be rewarded with much cheese for all of your work.  These curds can be made with cows milk, goats milk or sheeps milk.

———————technique ———————-

1) Warm the milk:

Warm up one gallon of unhomogenized milk to 90 degrees F (32 degrees C).  The milk should feel just barely warm to the touch.

The warm temperature serves to encourage the bacterial cultures to proliferate in the milk.

2)  Add starter culture to the milk:

Add to the milk some cheesemaking starter culture.Just stir in a quarter cup of live active yogourt whey (the yellowish liquid that rises to the top of your yogourt) or kefir.  You can also use freeze dried starter culture,  buttermilk or whey from a previous batch of cheese .

The starter culture activates the milk and give it the life it needs to become cheese.  The starter culture helps protect the cheese as it ages, and gives it wonderful flavour and health benefits.

3) Ripen the milk

Leave the pot of activated milk to sit for one hour in a warm place.  Place a lid on the pot, and wrap it in towels to keep the warmth of the milk contained within.  Some ideas for warm spots:  on top of a pilot light on an old gas stove, or on an electric stovetop, turning on the heating element for fifteen seconds every half an hour. The milk will sour slightly as it ripens, thus setting the stage for renneting.

4) Add rennet:

Add rennet according to the instructions on the packaging.  The rennet I use, a natural calfs rennet known as Walcoren, calls for a quarter of a tablet to be dissolved in a quarter cup of cold water  for every gallon of milk.  The water is then poured over the warm, soured milk, and mixed in lightly. From now on, do not disturb the milk.  The milk will set into jello as a result of the rennet interacting with the milk proteins in a sour environment.

5) Incubate

Leave the pot of renetted milk to incubate at 90F for one additional hour.  Keep it warm with towels, and heat gently over a low heat if you need to raise the temperature. After one hour, the rennet will transform the milk into a jiggly-jellowy curd.

6) Check for a clean break

Jostle the pot slighty and you will see the curd bounce in the pot.  Look for signs that the curd has begun to shrink in the pot: it will pull away from the outside of the pot leaving a rim of yellowish whey, and pools of whey will form atop the curd as it sinks.  When you see these signs, test for a clean break: dip your finger into the pot at an angle, then pull it straight up.  You’ll feel a pop as your finger breaks the surface tension of the curd, then when your finger comes up, it should split the curd cleanly into two.  If you find the curd doesn’t break cleanly, allow the curd to incubate another fifteen minutes at 90F then try again.

7) Cut the curds

Cut the curds with a knife in three series of cuts.  First , with the knife pointed straight down and starting at the left side of the pot, draw the knife towards you to cut the curd into a slice, then continue to cut slices  one half inch apart all the way to the right side of the pot. Second, starting at the far end of the pot, cut the curd into slices a half inch apart perpendicular to the first series of cuts. Finally make one more series of cuts with the knife held at an angle, so that the curds are cut several times along their length.  You now have a pot full of half-inch sized curds.

To encourage the curd to give off whey, and thus firm up, we cut the single curd into hundreds of smaller curds.  The additional surface area helps the curds shed whey and become stronger and easier to handle.

8) Stir the curds

The curds will need to be stirred for about one hour before they are ready.  They need not be stirred for an entire hour, but they need to be stirred every ten minutes:  if left alone they will settle to the bottom and coalesce into one another, but if the pot is given a little bit of stirring, the curds will remain distinct.    Be sure to keep the temperature of the pot round 90F.  Turn on the heat under the pot if you need to boost the temperature.

Use a wooden spoon as a stainless spoon will cut the curds.  Stir painfully slowly at first.  Pick up the pace of the stirring as the curds strengthen.  The curds will shrink in size and lose their sharp edges.  Take one out with your fingers and taste it.  Feel the texture in your mouth.  When the curds have a texture of a poached egg, but are still slighly gooey in the centre, they are ready.

9) Pitch the curds

The final step for this recipe will be the pitching of the curds.  To pitch them, simply leave them alone for five minutes.  by letting them be,  they will strengthen slightly so that they will be easier to handle, and they will settle to the bottom of the pot, which will make it easier to pour of the whey so that the curds can be strained…

10) Turn the curds into cheese!

The basic recipe is done.  These basic curds can now be taken and transformed into dozens of different cheeses.  Recipes for squeaky cheese, camembert, blue cheese, cheddar mozzarella and many others continue from here.


  1. Therese Williams

    Hi David — I took your workshop on Pender Island, last weekend. Started with yogurt cheese rolled it in fresh chopped chives and we’re loving it. Can I make feta from the Paneer recipe? Thanks for coming to Pender and thanks for any help. TW

  2. Hi Therese

    Excited to hear that your yogourt cheese is being appreciated. Paneer cannot be used to make any aged cheeses, it can only be eaten fresh. Live, rennet cheese is needed to make feta. A Camembert-like curd can be salted, then air dried for a couple of days, then submerged in a light brine to age in the refrigerator for three weeks…

  3. Yanick McDonald

    Hello !
    I just finished up your basic and advanced workshop at UBC farms.
    Really enjoyed everything you had to say. Amazed at the kefir culture you gave us, and the soft cheese I made with it. Regarding the squeaky cheese curds we made at the end of the basic class. I didn’t have a chance to record the finishing steps to produce the poutine quality curds sold at the dépanneur.
    When we removed them they were squeaky, but still soft in the middle. Do I simmer them further to dry them out more? Then proceed to coat with salt and leave to ferment in a zip lock bag?
    Really appreciate all your teachings.

  4. Liz

    Hi David, I took your beginners course on Bowen Island and have been having great fun with it so far. I am next going to tackle a rennet cheese. Curious if you have ever made buratta?

  5. Hiya Liz

    I haven’t ever made buratta – I need to perfect my mozzarella before I attempt it.

    The way to make burratta is similar to the process of making mozza. Except that the centre of the mozzarella ball is filled with a ball of mozzarella that is specially prepared in a way that incorporates an extra dose of cream. This results in a cheese that`s firm on the outside, but creamy like a camembert in its centre…

    Essentially, this centre is made first by making a small batch of mozzarella, then breaking the mozzarella into small bits of curd by hand, mixing these bits with cream, then stuffing another ball of mozzarella with this cream and curd mixture. The resulting composite ball of mozzarella is then melted in hot water until the centre of the cheese melts, then the cheese is cooled and brined…

    Someday soon i`ll put up a more complete recipe on these pages.

    Bon fromage!


  6. amit sharma

    I am waiting to try this chees surd recipe and surely reply with success.
    I am from India and want to be in such country to learn more.
    Can you help me suggesting a way to fulfil my dream.

  7. Nicole

    Hi David,

    I had taken your beginner’s course at UBC. I attempted to make Camembert this evening. I added the rennet an hour and 15minutes ago, it’s still liquid. I used Raw milk I bought in the US. At this point can I add more rennet? What could I have possibly done wrong? Thanks for any suggestions

  8. We consider ourslves extremely lucky to be able to buy our own share in a cow.
    We are getting a gallon of wonderful raw milk every week from our animal, and we appreciate it greatly.
    So do my milk kefir grains, they absolutely love the stuff.
    Even though I am boiling the milk slowly for 10 minutes, they enjoy it greatly.

  9. One has to pave his way to find raw and un-homogenized milk but the reward of creating your own cheese is definitely worth it! I can’t wait to try this on my own.

  10. Kaylie Weinreich

    Hi David,
    I’m not able to find the recipe for squeaky cheese curds. Could you please post a link to it? Thanks :)

  11. You’re right! I was wondering what to do today – thanks for the good idea…


  12. Hi David, thanks for posting such clear instructions. I’ve heard of people using slow cookers or crock pots in cheese making, have you used them? I am hoping that I might be able to use one to keep the curds at 90F. Any thoughts?

  13. Great site, David. Looking forward to your book when it is out. Question: Why do you use calf rennet?

  14. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question. Stay tuned to my book for a long explanation; but in short, I feel it is the most natural, ethical and appropriate enzyme for cheesemakers to use.

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