Production Guide

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To make cheese, the basic process includes introducing a bacterial culture to milk, adding an enzyme or acid and separating curds from whey. Cheesemakers modify the process and incorporate other steps — such as pasteurization, separating and standardizing butterfat content, cooking, brining and aging — to produce a variety of cheese types. Also, an important aspect of producing cheese is the storing and aging process, which causes a considerable delay between production and selling. Note, whether pasteurization is required depends on the cheese. Product that hasn’t undergone pasteurization heat treatment requires at least a 60-day aging period at the appropriate temperature.

This publication highlights further background needed for a farm considering cheese production. However, farms should also include a market assessment as part of their enterprise planning. You’ll want to supply types of cheese that meet your target market’s needs; preferences; and characteristics, such as income, how consumers use cheese and purchase frequency. Offering cheeses with label attributes such as grass-fed or pasture-raised could differentiate your products relative to competitive alternatives.


A cheesemaking facility’s configuration will depend on the types of cheese being produced. Generally, it should accommodate planned production processes, product and ingredient movement needs and equipment investments. Equipment commonly used for cheesemaking includes milk storage tanks, a cheese vat and press, sinks, pH reader, pasteurizer, separator, molds and brine tank. All equipment outfitting a facility should be easy to clean. Facility design also should minimize physical strain on the people working in it.

The facility must offer adequate space for all activities involved in producing a type of cheese. Examples include receiving and storing ingredients, testing ingredient and product quality, processing and brining cheese, aging cheese, packaging and shipping product and conducting office business. Selling cheese on-site may mean the facility should include a retail area, which must have separation from cheese production by a physical barrier.

Before you approve a blueprint and start construction, verify your facility plan meets regulatory requirements. A facility will require the appropriate state and federal approvals. In Missouri, the State Milk Board grants Grade A processing plant permits and dairy product manufacturing plant licenses to facilities that apply and meet the appropriate criteria. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates registration of food facilities — defined as those that manufacture, pack or hold food that humans or animals will consume. It does make some exceptions. An exemption is available for retail food establishments that generate more dollar sales from direct-to-consumer transactions than sales to other buyers.


The quality of ingredients used to make cheese affects the end product’s quality. The chief ingredient in cheese, milk typically originates from cows, goats or sheep. A farm with a cheesemaking enterprise may exclusively use milk it produces — a criterion typically associated with cheese labeled as “farmstead.” If the farm produces too little milk to meet its cheese production needs, then it may source it from elsewhere. Procuring high-protein, low-somatic-cell milk can maximize cheese yields.

Cheesemakers using milk produced in a pasture-raised or grass-fed system will likely find the milk’s butterfat content to vary seasonally. Creating a consistent product requires separating cream from milk and blending the appropriate amount of fat back into the skim milk. If you plan to have your dairy herd produce pasture-raised or grass-fed milk for cheesemaking on your own farm, then also refer to our milk production resources and production guide.  

Made from active bacteria, the culture added during cheesemaking ultimately affects the type of cheese produced and its attributes, including taste, texture and physical appearance. Cultures are available in frozen or freeze-dried forms. An enzyme, such as rennet, stimulates coagulation, or cheesemakers may use acid instead for coagulation purposes.

Some cheese types are salted. Others include featured ingredients such as herbs, spices or peppers to add flavor to the final product.

Production Process   

The introduction outlined basic steps involved in cheese production. However, adjusting the process, ingredients, curing time and other variables leads to a range of products, which vary in their flavor, texture, moisture content, perishability and other properties. The U.S. does have standardization requirements — published in the Code of Federal Regulations — for some cheese types, including cheddar, Gouda, mozzarella and provolone. Although the specific requirements vary by cheese type, they typically focus on controlling production parameters such as temperature, relative humidity, aging period length and ingredient use. Processors must satisfy the appropriate standards to correctly label their cheese products.

Forming cheese and packaging it are other important steps. For some cheeses, producers create large blocks or wheels. If ultimately selling cheese products directly to consumers, then the blocks and wheels can be broken into smaller blocks or wedges. Cheesemakers often use flat disk, pyramid or log shapes when forming soft cheeses that have had surface ripening. They often pack fresh cheeses in containers.

Perfecting cheesemaking skills and processes can take time and experience. Successful producers monitor their product quality and make improvements.

Cheesemakers must adhere to food safety practices. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) mandates food producers, including processors, to maintain a food safety plan and follow current good manufacturing practices. Depending on the product and business size, processors will need to adopt hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls. The Dairy Food Safety Alliance — an effort of the Center for Dairy Research, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association — provides templates cheesemakers can use to comply with FSMA. Find them at


American Cheese Society. 2017. Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers. American Cheese Society.

Brzozowski, Richard, Leilani Carlson and Ellen Gibson. Bulletin #1220, Cheese Maker Self-Assessment Tool for Occupational Health, Safety and Ergonomics. University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Cornelisse, Sarah, Kerry E. Kaylegian, Lynn Kime, Jayson K. Harper and Emily Montgomery. 2018. Farmstead and Artisan Cheesemaking. Penn State Extension.

Cornell University. Cornell University.

Durst, Phil. 2021. Learning the art and science of cheesemaking. Michigan State University Extension.

Goodnow, Brianna, Elizabeth Chaney, Julia Hofmeister and Jeffrey Bewley. Considerations for Starting an On-Farm Dairy Processing Enterprise. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

Grant, Richard J., Jennifer L. Garrett, Barry Steevens and James N. Spain. 1993. Feeding to Maximize Milk Solids. University of Missouri Extension.

Kaylegian, Kerry E. 2021. Introduction to Making Cheese. Penn State Extension.

National Archives. Code of Federal Regulations: Part 133 — Cheeses and Related Cheese Products. National Archives and Records Administration.

State Milk Board. Forms and Licensing for Milk and Dairy. Missouri Department of Agriculture.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2018. Small Entity Compliance Guide: Registration of Food Facilities. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2023. Registration of Food Facilities and Other Submissions. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.