Chèvre Starter Culture

May 7, 2011 · 7 comments

A basic chèvre cheese is made with rennet (a curdling agent) and a starter culture. The culture gives it that traditional pleasantly-sour taste. If I lived in France and had my own personal cheese cave in the backyard, I could just set my ripening cheese out to absorb the naturally occurring bacteria from the air, but sadly that is not the case. Modern cheese makers (at home or at a cheese factory) generally use known cultures that yield consistently good products.

For home cheesemaking, you can get started two different ways: freeze-dried single use packets of starter + rennet or bulk starter culture that you propagate in sterilized milk and add rennet later with each batch of cheese. The former is easier and requires less forethought, but the latter is cheaper and produces arguably better-tasting cheese. I’ve used both methods with mostly good results all around.

It seems that the absolute authority on home cheesemaking in the US is Rikki Carroll, author of Home Cheese Making and owner of the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. I use her book and many of her starter cultures for all my cheese recipes. You can order everything from her site online, but I prefer to buy cheese cultures at my local homebrewing supply store, so I don’t have to pay for shipping. If you buy stuff from a store that doesn’t have a high turnover, make sure that your cultures aren’t approaching or past the expiration dates.

I use Flora Danica, mesophyllic aromatic culture, to inoculate a mother starter. The following recipe/instruction is adapted from Home Cheese Making:

Start by placing a canning jar, canning lid, and ring in boiling water for five minutes to sterilize it. This last batch, I only made one pint of mother starter. I think next time I’ll do two pint jars side by side instead of one quart jar because pints would fit better submerged in my 2-gallon pot. The white thing at the bottom is a silicon pot holder thingy that provides a soft surface for the jar(s) to bump on as the water boils (might be unnecessary).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fill the jar with milk. Leave about a half inch of head space. The recipe says to use skim milk, but I’ve always used whole milk with good results. Return the jar to the pot. Note the time that the water begins to boil again, and leave it at a rolling boil for 30 minutes. Remove the jar from the water and let it sit at (+/- 70°) room temperature until it doesn’t feel warm. This will take hours, so make sure you’re not in a hurry. Don’t put a thermometer in the milk because of the risk of contamination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the jar and its contents are about 70°, add 1/4 tsp. starter culture per 1 pint of sterilized milk (as per the instructions on the package). Do this as quickly as possible and put the lid back on to avoid contamination from the air. I probably shouldn’t have taken the time to photograph this step, but I did, and it turned out okay.

Let the jar sit undisturbed at room temperature for 12-18 hours until the milk has thickened to the consistency of soft yogurt.

You can go ahead and use it at this point, or you can freeze it for the future. Ice cube trays are the best for freezing starter culture because one cube equals about an ounce, so you won’t have to measure later when adding it to your recipe. Once it’s frozen, transfer to an airtight bag and label it with the culture name and date.

In theory, it’s possible to use your own mother starter to inoculate a new batch of starter, but I’ve heard that it loses umph after a generation or two. I always just start over with the freeze-dried stuff because one package will make hundreds of gallons of milk into cheese, and I don’t go through it that quickly.

Questions? Ask away, and I will do my best to answer.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura May 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Very interesting Camile! I always wondered about this. Thanks!

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Veronica Larmour December 8, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Thanks for the method; I plan to try this next time.
Remember, you’re only as clean as your dirtiest step, so the ice-cube tray should also be sterile. This is easy enough to do by just pouring a kettle-full of boiling water over it in a colander.
If you place the jar of sterile milk into a small pot of boiled water poured from the big pot you can monitor the temperature of the milk by letting the thermometer sit in the water as everything cools.
Cover and wrap the ice cube tray with plastic wrap, which is pretty clean when fresh off the roll, before you put it in the freezer. Or sterilize your freezer!

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Dave L September 21, 2013 at 6:46 am

Skim or whole milk, but is it pasteurized from the grocery store or raw from the farm?

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L. Beez October 31, 2013 at 5:02 pm

It won’t matter whether it’s raw or pasteurised, because you will be sterilising it in the canner for 30 minutes. Commercial pasteurisation of milk is done at 72C for 15 seconds (161F). Whole milk is far better for making cheese, because you want that delicious fat in there, and in addition farm-fresh milk has more goodness so your cheese will taste nicer and you will feel more virtuous. Plus you are supporting the farm-fresh movement and we need more of that. But I have bought organic pasteurised goat milk from the supermarket and the cheese was delicious enough!

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Kat March 23, 2014 at 8:25 pm

I am going to be using raw goat milk to make goat cheese. So with this recipe you don’t need rennet?
I would still use this as I would a regular culture and bring the milk to 85 degrees and then add my home made culture and let sit?

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Kat March 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm

I have seen a recipe that said to make yogurt first and use that as a starter with no ‘starter culture’ added. I wonder if that would work. I do not want to wait to order chevre starter and want to make cheese now…..

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lisa February 21, 2018 at 8:55 pm

hi,
1) how do you use the bulk starter after it’s made?
2) how much would I use to make, say, 1 gallon of buttermilk or 1 quart of sour cream?
3) and do I follow the same incubation process for them as with using the powder?
thanks!

lisa
p.s. if possible could you please email me the answers?

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