Everybody is into some kind of artisan craftwork these days, it seems. Between the guys brewing beer in their garage, to their wives knitting sweaters on the couch, to that couple you know who restores old furniture, people like to do it themselves in 2015.

What you don’t run across much is people who are making their own cheese. This is a shame, because cheese-making is just complex enough to be interesting, but simple enough that anyone can do it. Imagine the satisfaction that would come with culturing, pressing, aging, maybe smoking, and eventually eating cheese that you made, that won’t taste like anybody else’s. Imagine the experience of getting better at it, honing your craft, discovering new techniques and flavor profiles. And then branding it, packaging it, selling it and becoming the Cheese King.

Dream a little. Make some cheese with us.

To get started today, we’re going to cover the basics of cheese-making, because an understanding of the concept is essential to becoming a master cheese craftsman.

What is Cheese, Exactly?

Cheese is curdled milk which has been separated from its whey. In most cases it tastes a lot better if it is then salted, pressed and aged, and most cheese recipes will call for this. But the fundamental task of making cheese is causing the whey to separate from the curds. This is accomplished by using a culture, which is bacteria. You kinda just mix it in there, heat it up and watch it to its thing, but we’ll get to that later. The extent to which you draw out the moisture of the curds — usually with some combination of a cheese press, salt, and aging — has a lot to do with whether you’re making a soft cheese like mozarella, a hard cheese like parmesan or something in between like cheddar.

Ok, So What Do I Need?

A cheese-making kit, plus some kitchen items you may already have. Here’s a list:

Large stock pot

Thermometer

Measuring utensils

Lond-handled spoon

Large bowl

Cheesecloth

Colander

This is the bare minimum, but just trust us that you’ll want to acquire a cheese press before you get started. Also, if you intend to age your cheese (and you should), you’ll also need a climate-controlled place to store it. An ideal place for this is a wine fridge, but there are a lot of creative ways to do this. We’ll talk abou this in a later entry, but for now just know that you can’t age cheese in your attic or anything like that. Well, you can, but you’ll wish you hadn’t.

What About Ingredients?

Glad you asked. You’ll need milk, cultures, salt. The specific kinds vary by recipe, but you should be in pretty good shape if you have these:

Whole milk

Calcium chloride

Direct-set mesophilic culture

Rennet (vegetable or animal)

Sea salt

Just Any Kind of Milk?

Pretty much, yeah. Get whole milk, obviously, but the Vitamin D stuff at your grocery store will work just fine as long as it’s not ultra-pasteurized (it will be labeled as such if it is). Now, you’ll make more complex, interesting cheese if you use raw milk. The trouble with raw milk is that you have to buy it from a farm. In the Houston area, Gramen Farm has a nice operation going, but if you find your own place, we’d love to hear about it.

Also, we’ve been talking about cow’s milk here, but goat’s milk and sheep’s milk are also popular choices. Just know that they aren’t necessarily interchangeable — a cheddar made with goat’s milk will not taste very much like cheddar cheese. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t experiment. That’s at least 50 percent of the point.

So Now What?

Now you’re ready to make cheese. Your next step will be deciding what kind of cheese to make, and following a recipe, which we’ll be including in our next installment.

So start thinking about it, and we’l be back.