Starting with Home Dairying

PUBLISHED: 12:19 18 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:59 20 February 2013

Starting with Home Dairying

Starting with Home Dairying

Follow our zero-nonsense, stripped-down guide to home dairying and cheesemaking from North Devon smallholder Simon Dawson

Since humankind domesticated the second animal (the first was dog and nobody wanted to make cheese out of dog milk) we have been collecting milk and dabbling with dairy skills. From the Romans who bathed in milk to the French who took the strength of cheese, not to mention the smell, to new heights, just about every region in the world features milk and cheese in their history, and very much in their present.

If your interest lies in making your own healthy live bio-yoghurt, a stunningly fast soft cheese or a homemade pat of butter, this is a no-nonsense, stripped-down guide to home dairying and cheese making that is a doddle to follow. And it all begins with milk.


Cows milk is made up of millions of tiny particles of butterfat, on average about 12.5% of the total, all kept in suspension away from one another in a solution of water. When we process milk and make butter, yoghurt and cheese, all were doing in effect is finding different ways to separate those butterfat globules from the water and bring them together.

But its the quality of the butterfat that will determine how good your dairy making will be. The creamier the milk, the more butterfat it will contain on average cows milk contains 66kcal per 100g/3oz of whole milk. In Devon we have some of the best milk in the country, thick and creamy with almost a hint of yellow in the colour. Utterly gorgeous!


Butter is just over-whipped cream. In fact, if you have ever over-whipped cream and ended up with a grainy liquid, the grains were butter and the liquid buttermilk you were nearly there!

Before you start making butter, make sure the cream youre about to use is a few days old. Choose a double cream and use it only on or around its sell-by date, as this makes it easier to work, gives a better yield and improves the flavour. If you use 300ml/ pint double cream, this will produce about 225g/8oz butter and 300ml/ pint buttermilk.

It is important to leave the cream out overnight at room temperature so it can ripen, again improving yield and flavour. Next day, pour the cream into a food mixer and fit the balloon whisk. Before you turn the food mixer on, drape some kitchen roll or a scrupulously clean tea towel around the top of the bowl as it does splash!

Start at medium speed, but be prepared to reduce it low as soon as you start to feel and hear the butter forming. This is the agitation process and will start breaking down the cream into solid (butter) and liquid (buttermilk), and should take only a couple of minutes. When the separation starts, you will hear the splashing inside the bowl get thinner and faster. At this point, turn the food mixer down low and continue for a couple more minutes to make certain all the butter has been removed, then stop.

The butter will have formed around the whisk in one solid piece. Scrape it off and literally run it under the cold tap. This will clean the butter. Then, to remove any remaining deposits of buttermilk that will quicken the spoiling process, place the butter on a board and take two wooden spoons, or Scotch hands, and pat the butter, which is where the phrase butter pat came from. As you pat it, you will see tiny pockets of milky liquid exploding free from the butter.

Wash once more, maybe add a little sea salt, and there you go homemade butter!


To make live natural yoghurt, you need, ironically, 2 teaspoons live natural yoghurt to use as a starter (the trick is to save a little from the last batch to create the next), as well as 1.2 litres/2 pints milk (skimmed, semi-skimmed or whole; goats, sheeps or cows all work well).
Put the milk in a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat and heat to 38-43C/100-110F to kill off any existing bacteria. Pour the milk into a wide-mouthed vacuum flask, stir in the live yoghurt, seal and leave overnight (10-12 hours). In the morning, tip the yoghurt into a dish and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours to thicken, then its ready to eat.
Flavoured yoghurt is to die for. All fruit, fresh or canned, works well. Some to try are strawberries, raspberries or blackcurrants. Other flavourings can include honey, nuts, muesli, raisins and sultanas, and avocado for use as a dip.

Curd Cheese

Curd or cottage cheese is a soft cheese that is neither pressed nor matured and retains a high level of moisture in the curd. It can be made with any type of milk, including goats and sheeps milk, and the higher the fat content, the creamier the curd. If made with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, it is therefore low in fat, making it popular with weight-watchers.

Pour 2.25 litres/4 pints of milk into a heavy-based saucepan and bring up to boiling point, then remove from the heat. Squeeze in the juice of a lemon and stir: the mixture will separate into curds and whey. Line a fine sieve with a muslin cloth, pour the mixture into it and allow the whey to drain off. Whats left in the muslin is curd cheese. To shape, twist the muslin down on to the cheese or pop it into a press and allow it to set for a couple of hours. The longer you leave it (up to a day), the firmer it will get. It should then be possible to slice it with a knife.

Variation: If you want a more mascarpone-type cheese, replace the milk with double cream and maintain the heat for 2 minutes before draining through the muslin cloth.

Simon Dawson is the author of the Self Sufficiency Bible, published by Watkins at 16.99.

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