How Cheese is Made

Outstanding Wisconsin cheeses begin with outstanding milk from Wisconsin dairy farms, an advantage they all share. And, although each cheese variety made in Wisconsin requires unique steps to produce, many common procedures are shared as well. Essentially, the proteins and milkfats in the milk are coagulated and concentrated in a curd mass, moisture levels are reduced and the liquid or whey is drained off.

Steps In Making Cheese
Step 1 - Milk Intake

Step 1 - Milk Intake

Incoming milk from Wisconsin dairy farms is tested for quality and purity. Fat levels are adjusted, depending on type of cheese being made.

Step 2 - Standardization

Step 2 - Standardization

Next, the milk is weighed. (Generally, about 10 pounds of milk will yield 1 pound of cheese.) The milk is heat-treated or pasteurized unless intended for a raw milk cheese.

Step 3 - Starter Culture and Coagulant

Step 3 - Starter Culture and Coagulant

Starter cultures, or good bacteria, are added to start the cheesemaking process. They help determine the ultimate flavor and texture of the cheese. A milk-clotting enzyme called rennet is added to coagulate the milk, forming a custard-like mass.

Step 4 - Cutting and Heating

Step 4 - Cutting and Heating

The gel-like cheese mass is then cut into curds to begin the process of separating the liquid (whey) from the milk solids (curds). They are then stirred and cooked until desired temperature and firmness are achieved. Large curds are cooked at lower temperatures, yielding softer cheeses like mascarpone and ricotta. Smaller curds are cooked at higher temperatures, yielding harder cheeses like parmesan and romano.

Step 5 - Draining

Step 5 - Draining

The whey is then drained off the curds, leaving a tightly formed curd.

Step 6 - Curd Transformation

Step 6 - Curd Transformation

The next phase, handling techniques and salting, determines how the curd is transformed into distinct cheese varieties made in Wisconsin.

Step 7 - Pressing

Step 7 - Pressing

Curds are pressed to form individual cheese varieties into characteristic shapes, release additional whey and "knit" the curds.

Step 8 - Curing

Step 8 - Curing

For aged cheeses, the curing step now begins. The process further develops the flavor and texture of the cheese. Aging rooms are carefully controlled for required humidity and temperature. For food safety considerations, raw milk cheeses require a 60-day minimum curing period before sales distribution.