Backyard Bliss | Curds a-whey: making cheese at home

Home-made cheese. Pictures: Hannah Moloney, Good Life Permaculture.
Home-made cheese. Pictures: Hannah Moloney, Good Life Permaculture.

When our daughter was a baby I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed. Occasionally I would even have to express my milk to avoid my boobs exploding.

Once I got over the social norms which imply it's weird to consume your own breast milk (heaven forbid) - I tried drinking some, adding some to homemade yoghurt (which is based on cow's milk) and at one stage, decided to experiment with making 100 per cent breast-milk cheese.

I used the same old "farm cheese" recipe I always followed (in my head) when making cheese with cow's milk - it's super quick, easy and tasty.

The first step in making your own cheese is to bring the milk up to just before boiling point, about 80 degrees.

Then, take it off the heat and add either lemon or apple cider vinegar.

How much, you ask? I start with small amounts (half a lemon) and then add more until I see the milk curdle - which means the curd and whey separate, which looks like milky snot globs forming in the watering substance. Nice description, I know.

Alas, the 100 per cent breast milk just did not want to curdle, I added more lemon, and then a touch of apple cider vinegar to see if that would make any difference. But it was beginning to taste super sour, so I surrendered to the fact that perhaps cheese made from 100 per cent breast milk doesn't work.

Easy tips for making cheese. You can even try using your own breast milk. Pictures: Hannah Moloney, Good Life Permaculture.

Easy tips for making cheese. You can even try using your own breast milk. Pictures: Hannah Moloney, Good Life Permaculture.

Some research suggests that breast milk has only 2.5 per cent protein, compared to cow's milk, 8 per cent and goat's milk, 8.7 per cent. Apparently breast milk also has a bit more fat than the others, but not by much.

When making cheese it is the proteins that react to form the characteristic curds. The more protein, the thicker the curd and higher the cheese yield.

In the name of a good science experiment, I also made a small batch of 70 per cent cow's milk and 30 per cent breast milk cheese to compare the two.

Pictured (top right), you can see the cow/breast milk pot on the left, which had been heated to 80 degrees and had one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar added to it (I ran out of lemons). Straight away it has curdled, which is what you want.

Compare this to the 100 per cent breast milk mix on the right, where I had put the juice from a whole lemon and a few teaspoons of vinegar into it with a whole lot of nothing happening.

The next step in cheese making is to strain the curdled mix through some cheese cloth - I put mine into a colander with a pot beneath it to catch the whey.

You can simply leave it there while is slowly drains, or you can hang the cheesecloth up to begin shaping it.

Before you walk away and let it drain, you can add flavours at this point. I added salt, pepper and thyme.

If you don't hang it up, I encourage you to "press" it with a bit of weight to speed up the draining process and to form a firm shape. I do something different every time, including using bowls and plates to form a highly-sophisticated press.

Pressing your cheese for quick results. Pictures: Hannah Moloney, Good Life Permaculture.

Pressing your cheese for quick results. Pictures: Hannah Moloney, Good Life Permaculture.

Five minutes later (I'm impatient) you have a soft mold of cheese ready to rock and roll. Of course you can leave it longer to get a firmer cheese, but technically you can eat it straight away.

But what happened to the pot of failed breast milk cheese? I used it to cook a batch of brown rice. When I was breast feeding I often used excess milk as a base for making curries or stews instead of stock or water.

Breast milk is a pretty amazing resource, with loads of health-giving properties, so there was no way I was tipping it down the sink.

You can read more about the benefits of breast milk from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a permaculture landscape design and education enterprise based in Tasmania that creates resilient and regenerative lives and landscapes.