Cheese Cultures Explained: Everything You Need to Know

Cheese Cultures Explained: Everything You Need to Know

1st Feb 2021

The process of cheesemaking requires the ripening or culturing of milk. If you are just getting started along your cheesemaking journey, you may be unfamiliar with what cheese cultures are, how they work, and which one to use to reach your desired cheese. Use our guide to help you get started!

What Are Cheese Cultures?

Cheese cultures are a group of specific bacteria strains that are combined in order to make a particular type of cheese. They are also used to help good bacteria in the milk flourish and lead to a more rich and developed flavor. All cultures accomplish the same basic task--their primary function is to raise the acidity of milk by absorbing the lactose (a natural sugar found in milk) and transforming it into lactic acid. This part is especially beneficial in the cheesemaking process for three reasons:

  1. The acid helps the milk split into particles called curds--an essential ingredient to produce cheese.
  2. Lactic acid causes milk to become more acidic by consuming the sugar inside the milk.
  3. After this process, the cheese begins to formulate its unique flavor, texture, and smell.

How Are Cheese Cultures Classified?

While most cheese cultures have a very similar makeup, they can be differentiated by the temperature at which they work, the type of bacteria strains they contain, and the ratio of each strain present. Depending on the type of cheese you want to make, the type of bacteria strain and ratio of each strain will vary.



Cheese cultures can be classified by the temperature at which they work. The two most common type of cheese cultures are:

Mesophilic Culture:

This type of cheese culture is best suited to work in moderate or medium temperatures up to 90°F. It is ideal for making a variety of hard cheeses such as Monterey, Cheddar, Jack, Edam, Gouda, etc. Mesophilic is also the most common of the two cultures as it is used to produce the majority of cheeses that cannot be heated up to a high degree.

Thermophilic Culture:

This type of cheese culture works well with warmer temperatures between 68-125° F range as it is a heat-loving bacteria. It’s used to make a variety of cheeses like Mozzarella, Parmesan, Provolone, Swiss, Romano, and more that can withstand higher temperatures.

For each individual culture, the growth and flavor production range will vary depending on not only the temperature but how many strains of bacteria is used and the ratio of each strain used.

Starter Culture vs. Non Starter Culture

Although it is possible to make cheese without a cheese culture like certain types of fresh, unaged cheeses (cream cheese, cottage cheese, rennet, etc.), most require a starter culture of some sort. Starter culture is specially grown bacteria (LAB or lactic acid bacteria) that is used to start the transformation of milk into cheese. These are great for beginners or if you’re just simply looking for a straightforward way to get started on making your own cheese! Most starter cultures come with a specific blend of bacteria that can be used to make a particular type of cheese. However, some starter cultures have a more broad use such as Mesophilic culture that can be used for a variety of cheese recipes ranging from semi-soft to hard. Many cheese recipes also typically list out the type of cheese culture that is needed in order to create your own, taking the guesswork out of your hands!

By contrast, non-starter culture (NSLAB or non-starter lactic acid bacteria) is made out of the microbial groups that are lower in curds and have different conditions than that of their counterparts. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, this type of culture dominates the cheese microbiota during the ripening process by being able to tolerate a hostile environment which strongly influences curd maturations and contributes to the development of the cheese’s final characteristics 1.

What Types of Cheese Cultures Does The CheeseMaker Offer?

Cheese culture is a fundamental element of cheesemaking as it is used to form the substance of the cheese and at The CheeseMaker, we can help you find the cheese culture you require. As experts in cheesemaking, we provide all of the cheesemaking supplies you may need in order to make cheese straight from your home. When you need cheesemaking ingredients or supplies, let us help you select the right products to kickstart your homemade cheesemaking today!

Mesophilic Culture MM100-101- Mesophilic culture is one of the most common types of cultures that is used in several different cheese recipes. You can make some of your favorite types of cheese using this culture like: Mozzarella, Camembert, Brie, Chevre, Blue, Feta and Fromage Blanc.

Mesophilic Culture MA 4001-4002- If you enjoy making semi-hard or hard cheeses then we recommend this type of mesophilic culture because it is perfect for making Roquefort, Cambozola, Castello Blue, Colby, Cheddar, Gouda, Brick and more!

Mesophilic Culture MA11-14-16-19- If you like Brie or Camembert and would like to try making it from scratch, then this is the culture you need! You can use this culture to add flavor to your Camembert and Brie cheeses and acidify the milk to get your desired outcome.

Mesophilic Culture BT 02- This type of culture blend is recommended for soft ripened and fresh unripened cheeses. You can also use it to make semi-hard cheeses, quark, and sour cream and while BT 02 may be to similar MM100-101, it produces more gas and diacetyl aroma.

Thermophilic Culture TA 61-62- If hard, aged cheeses are your thing then this culture is a must-need! Use our starter kit for all your hard cheeses such as: Italian, Parmesan, Mozzarella, Provolone, Emmental/Swiss, Romano and many more.

Thermophilic Culture TM81- If you’re looking for a vegan-friendly option, then this is the culture you need! For a flexible and stretchy structure, it’s known to create a soft and moisturized texture and it’s ideal for making all your favorite Italian style cheeses as well.

Thermophilic Culture Su Casu- If you’re looking for a culture that can be exposed to a high heat resistance, then this is the culture you need. It comes with a combination of Thermophilic bacteria that makes cheeses like Swiss, Parmesan, and other hard cheeses.

Feta Series FT001-02-Mesophilic- If you’re a fan of Feta cheese and you’d like to make your own at home, then this culture is for you as it is freeze-dried blend and specially-formulated for Feta cheese.

Camembert or Brie Cheese Making Culture/Mold/Rennet Kit- If you don’t know where to start or feel intimidated by the variety of cheese cultures out there, we recommend starting off with a kit! Our kits come with a packet of four cultures that include everything you will need to make cheeses like Camembert of Brie. Our list of step-by-step instructions and downloadable eBooks makes it simple to follow along and takes the legwork out of researching a particular recipe and trying to locate your ingredients.

All of our starter kits are easy to use because they’re pre-measured and come with an eBook for you to reference. If you make cheeses often, then we recommend for you to purchase our starter kits because you can make more batches, it will last you longer, and you’ll save money down the line. Starter kits are also perfect for beginners because it comes with all the ingredients, instructions, and equipment you will need to kickstart your cheesemaking journey that will save you countless hours at the grocery store!

What is the Difference Between Each Culture?

The combinations of bacteria strains in different ratios is what distinguishes each cheese culture apart from another and places these cultures in their respective categories. Our cheese cultures are also differentiated by their attributes, use, and number label. For further information click on each culture above to see what’s included in each package. Most of our cheese cultures come in 2-packet or 4-packet sets, so you can make your cheese in small or large batches based on your personal preference and desired servings.

Culture Image Use
Mesophilic Culture MM100-101 Mesophilic Culture MM100-101 Mozzarella, Camembert, Brie, Chevre, Blue, Feta and Fromage Blanc
Mesophilic Culture MA 4001-4002 mesophilic-culture-ma-4001-4002 Roquefort, Cambozola, Castello Blue, Colby, Cheddar, Gouda, Brick and other hard or semi-hard cheeses.
Mesophilic Culture MA11-14-16-19 mesophilic-culture-ma11-14-16-19 Acidifies milk and can be added to Camembert and Brie cheese. You can also make Cheddar, Colby, Monterrey Jack, Blue cheese, Feta, Chevre and other cheeses.
Mesophilic Culture BT 02 mesophilic-culture-bt-02 Can be used as the culture to make homemade Camembert, Brie, Blue cheese, Mozzarella, Chevre, Feta, Fromage Blanc, and other cheeses.
Thermophilic Culture TA 61-62 thermophilic-culture-ta-61-62 Great for making homemade Parmesan, Romano, Provolone, Mozzarella and Swiss.
Thermophilic Culture TM 81 Thermophilic-Starter-Series-TM-81 Great for making Italian style cheeses and Mozzarella. This culture creates a moist, soft, and stretchy structure.
Thermophilic Culture Su Casu thermophilic-culture-su-casu This culture is a blend of Thermophilic bacteria for making Parmesan, & Elemental/Swiss. This culture has a very high heat resistance.
Feta Series FT001-02-Mesophilic feta-series-ft001-02-mesophilic Specially-formulated freeze-dried culture blend for Feta cheese.
Camembert or Brie Cheese Making Culture/Mold/Rennet Camembert-Brie-Cheese-Making-One-Time-Use-Packets Brie and Camembert cheeses.

Why Is Cheese Culture Important & What Is It Used For?

Cheese culture is crucial to not only for the production of cheese but also its preservation. Cheese cultures also aids in the prevention of bad bacteria growth that can spoil the cheese and shorten its shelf life. This is why cheese lasts longer than milk! The good bacteria found in cheese cultures helps the rennet or coagulant set the cheese and undermines the present bacteria. Cheese cultures also cause the formation of curds through fermentation that break down the lactose found in milk and convert it into lactic acid. Another key functionality of cheese culture is that it affects the taste and texture of the cheese. Without cheese culture, your favorite cheeses would lack the rich flavor, texture, aroma, and the taste it’s known for. Bottom line-- cheese cultures are important for the production of cheese, the distinct texture and flavor of certain types of cheese, and the preservation of cheese.


Which Cheese Culture Do I Need?

The cheese culture you will need will depend on the type of cheese you want to make. Our homemade cheese recipes take the guesswork out by listing out the type of culture you will need! However, if your recipe does not include the type of cheese culture you will need or if you are feeling spontaneous, then a general rule of thumb is to pay attention to the inoculation temperature during the ripening process. If the temperature is up to 90ºF, then we recommend to go with the mesophilic culture, but if the temperature is between 68-125° F then the thermophilic culture is preferred. Most common cheeses use the mesophilic culture to make your favorite cheeses like Mozzarella, Monterrey Jack, Colby, Cottage Cheese, and Cheddar. The texture (soft, semi-soft, or hard) of the cheese will also determine what type of culture is needed as well. For example, hard cheeses such as Swiss cheese, Parmesan and other hard cheeses typically call for a thermophilic starter culture because these types of cultures have a very high resistance to heat, making them a frequent ingredient in cheese that requires high temperatures5.

How Do You Store Cheese Cultures?

Unopened cheese cultures should be stored away in the freezer or someplace cold in order to preserve them and prevent more bacteria from growing (as bacteria loves warm places!). When storing culture, make sure you seal or close them in a tight plastic bag or small mason jar to prevent moisture from getting into the culture. When stored properly, cheese cultures can last up to two years.

What’s the Difference Between Cheese Culture & Cheese Mold?

Cheese culture is primarily used to form the substance of the cheese inside by using good bacteria in the milk to flourish and leads to a more rich and developed flavor. It’s a group of specific bacteria strains that are put together for making a specific cheese 2. On the other hand, cheese mold helps form the outside of the cheese by adding bacteria to it which yields its unique texture and flavor. However, what cheese culture and cheese mold have in common is that they are both needed for the production of cheese and have good bacteria that help cheese develop its desired consistency.

What Cheeses Are Made With Cheese Culture?

Most cheeses like Cheddar, Gouda, Mozzarella, Brie, and Camembert require a certain type of cheese culture in order to make them because they are aged. In rare instances, some soft, fresh cheeses like cream cheese or cottage cheese do not require any type of cheese culture because they are unaged. The most popular cheeses require one of two common types of cultures: mesophilic or thermophilic based on the temperature in which they work. Mesophilic culture is the most common culture of the two due to its broad usage and medium temperature range. If you’re still unsure which type of cheese culture to use, feel free to follow a cheese recipe or use this article to guide you in the right direction!


What Other Cheese Cultures Are There And What Are Their Uses?

Some other types of cheese cultures that we offer are the feta and camembert/brie starter kits to make these specific types of cheeses. Another type of culture is Propioni bacteria that is used for the aroma, flavor, eye formation, and production of Swiss cheeses. While there is an endless list of cheese cultures available, the two most common and readily used ones are mesophilic and thermophilic. Mesophilic culture is universal due to its vast usage in many cheese recipes. It can also be combined with a thermophilic culture to make a certain type of hard cheeses such as: Provolone, Romano, Parmesan, Mozzarella, etc. No matter what type of cheese you are experimenting with, starting off with these two types of cultures will ensure you’re on the right track but be sure to double check what your recipe calls for!

Where Do Cheese Cultures Come From?

Cheese cultures come from the fermentation of milk and milk comes from many different sources depending which animal it originated from such as a cow, goat, or sheep. In order for good bacteria to flourish in milk, you must use an animal-based pasteurized type of milk. Cheese cultures consist of lactic bacteria which is added to milk to break down the lactose (sugars) found in it and make it more digestible as well as sustainable.

Benefits of Cheese Cultures for Health & Wellness - Probiotics

Cultured foods like yogurts, kombuchas, and even cheese have gained widespread popularity due to the many health benefits they provide. Fermented foods and drinks contain many good bacteria called probiotics that helps restore your gut health and has many digestive enzymes. Consuming fermented dairy products like kefir or yogurt and even certain types of cheeses (in moderation of course!) has many short and long-term health benefits to your overall wellness. While all cheeses are not created equal, certain cheeses such as: Cottage Cheese, Feta, Parmesan, Swiss, and Mozzarella (part skim) provide many essential vitamins and minerals. To name a few, cheese is a great source of protein, it’s high in vitamin B12 (responsible for energy and nervous system health), has many healthy fats, helps build muscles, strengthen your immune system, and many more! If you make your own cheese or any of these products from home, then you receive twice the amount of nutrients because the homemade products always carry more bacteria strains then the manufacturer store bought ones and are typically more dense in vitamins overall. So next time you’re worried about cheese affecting your waistline, think about this before limiting yourself!


Find the Right Cheese Culture with The CheeseMaker

Whether you’re just beginning to make cheese at home or ready to experiment with more advanced recipes, we carry a large selection of cheese cultures, molds, and supplies for every type of cheesemaker! Find the culture you need by following our famous recipes or browsing through our catalog for the best prices on our pre-made kits and starter cultures. If you need help finding the one you need, let the CheeseMaker help you get started! Don’t wait any longer, and start making your own cheese from home today!


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