How to Make Farmers Cheese

Farmers cheese draining in a cheesecloth-lined colander

Farmers cheese is a versatile soft cheese that is an excellent introduction to cheesemaking, turning milk into cheese with the addition of either lemon juice or vinegar. Let's learn how to make cheese at home with milk.

How to make farmers cheese

Farmers cheese in an easy-to-make soft cheese, using ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. It doesn't require rennet or a special cheese-making culture, and you don't need specialized equipment. 

No aging is required either - farmers cheese is ready to eat when it has finished draining.

It's an excellent first project for aspiring cheesemakers, homesteaders, and anyone who loves fresh, healthy food.

What is farmers cheese?

Farmers cheese is an unripened, mild cheese with a crumbly texture similar to a dry cottage cheese. 

Common in Eastern Europe, farmers cheese has many names such as tvorog, smearcase, pot cheese, tvaroh, topfen, kvark and others, as well as farm cheese and farmer's cheese. 

Farmers cheese is high in protein, and contains fewer calories and lower cholesterol than cream cheese and hard cheeses.

This simple and fast cheese originated as a way for dairy farmers to use the milk that was left after butter was skimmed off. It's still a great use for a surplus of milk.

What kind of milk to use to make farmers cheese

I am using raw goat milk to make farmers cheese in this article, but you can use milk from cows or sheep instead of goat milk. The directions are the same.

If you're planning to make cheese with cow's milk from the grocery store, I recommend buying whole milk. Your results won't be as successful if you use skim or low fat milk.

Don't use ultra-pasteurized milk - this milk will not form curds.

Two ways to make farmers cheese

Farmers cheese can be made with milk and lemon juice, or you can make milk and vinegar cheese. Both lemon juice and vinegar will acidify the milk and turn it into cheese. I've tried both recipes, but personally I prefer the taste of the lemon juice cheese.

So my recipe and directions for making farmers cheese use lemon juice. If you'd prefer to make vinegar cheese, just substitute apple cider vinegar for the lemon juice in the recipe below and follow the same directions.

Ingredients you'll need for farmers cheese

To make farmers cheese you'll need:

  • 1/2 gallon (two quarts) of whole milk
  • Juice from 2-3 lemons, about 1/4 cup
  • Cheese salt (optional)
  • Herbs (optional)

Salt will give your cheese more "zing" but if you don't have cheese salt in your pantry, you can substitute a non-iodized table salt instead. 

But continue reading to see which kind of salt is best for farmers cheese and for other kinds of cheeses, and why. Cheese salt is best!

You can add herbs to your finished cheese for additional flavor if you wish. Keep reading for suggested herbs.

Two quart jars of goat milk on a blue background, with a thermometer in front of the jars

The equipment you'll need to make farmers cheese

Homemade farmers cheese doesn't require specialized equipment such as a mold or a cheese press. You probably already have most of the following needed items in your kitchen.

  • a large pot for heating the milk (a stockpot is ideal)
  • a thermometer that attaches to the side of the pot, such as the candy thermometer pictured here
  • a large spoon
  • a wire strainer
  • cheesecloth or plyban
  • a large rubber band
  • a pitcher

A large pot of milk heating on a stove with a candy thermometer clipped to the side of the pot.

Farmers cheese directions

Pour a half-gallon (2 quarts) of whole milk into the stock pot, and attach a thermometer to the side of the pot. The tip of the thermometer should not touch the bottom of the pot. 

Heat the milk to 185°F, stirring occasionally so it doesn't scorch. When it reaches the right temperature, move the pot off the heat.

Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice, stir gently just once around the pot. Then cover the pot, and set a timer for 15 minutes. 

Like bread making, cheese making has a lot of waiting time. Tell yourself that it's good for developing patience.

A large pot of milk that has separated into curds and whey
After sitting for 15 minutes, you should be able to see both curds and whey in the pot.

After 15 minutes you should be able to see a definite separation of the curds and whey.

However, sometimes you might not. When that happens to me, I add the juice of one more lemon, stir once around the pot again, and wait another 15 minutes. 

I've never had a failure after that. I've always been able to see that the curds and whey have separated and my cheese has been successful. 

But I'm always on pins and needles until I can see the difference. This cheese recipe hasn't failed me yet and after the additional waiting time it always works. 

A cheesecloth-line wire mesh strainer on top of a green bowl. The strainer holds curds of goat milk cheese.

Next, gently move the curds into a strainer lined with fine cheesecloth. 

Not that gauzy stuff they sell that has large holes, the kind you usually see in hardware and craft stores. That won't work, the curds will go right through those big holes.

You want a fine-meshed cheesecloth with small holes and more structure. This reusable Plyban cheesecloth is another good choice.

Set the lined strainer inside a large bowl to catch the whey. 

Gently move the curds and whey into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and allow the whey to drain off. You can let the whey go down the sink drain, but it's good for so many other things. I strain the cheese into a pitcher so I can save the whey. 

Keep reading for suggestions to use the whey.

Be gentle with the curds when using goat milk

If you're using goat milk to make this farmer's cheese, be very gentle when moving the curds. Goat milk curds are fragile, so handle with great care. 

I gently scoop mine out of the pot with a measuring cup and then carefully pour the measuring cup into the cheesecloth-lined strainer.

A cheesecloth-covered strainer on top of a bowl, full of goat milk curds. The whey is draining out of the curds.

Drain the cheese

Now that we've strained most of the whey from the curds, the next step is to hang the cheese to remove more whey. 

Gather the four corners of the cheesecloth together with the ball of cheese in the middle, and use a rubber band to tie them together. Stick the handle of a plastic or wooden spoon through the cheesecloth below the knot/rubber band. 

Lay the spoon across the top of a pitcher, so the cheesecloth "bag" with the curds inside hangs suspended inside the pitcher. Gravity and the pressure of the curds will cause more whey to drain into the pitcher.

Let this drain for an hour or so, until the curds stop draining. 

Suspending the cheesecloth "bag" inside a pitcher to allow the whey to drain out of the soft cheese.

Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth, and add cheese salt and herbs if desired. I add 1/8 teaspoon of cheese salt to my farmer's cheese for a brighter flavor.

What is cheese salt, do you really need it, and where to buy it

If you don't have cheese salt in your cupboard, you can substitute non-iodized salt to your farmers cheese. Don't use iodized table salt, it will ruin your cheese.

Because the salt in farmer's cheese is added at the end of the process, fine non-iodized salt can be used in this case instead of cheese salt. 

However, when making other types of cheese, the salt is added in an earlier step. In that case, flake salt such as cheese salt is best to use. 

Fine salt will dissolve too quickly in the brine of other kinds of cheese, and coarse salt won't dissolve fast enough, so when making cheese other than farmer's cheese you should use cheese salt.

You can purchase cheese salt from Hoegger Farmyard, or this cheese salt from Amazon.

Farmers cheese, a soft cheese, in a cheesecloth-lined strainer.

If you like a drier cheese

If you like a drier cheese, just let your farmer's cheese drain longer. We like ours a little creamier. 

Uses for farmers cheese

Suggestions for what to do with farmers cheese:

  • Farmers cheese is delicious crumbled on top of salads. 

  • Use as a filling for blintzes, cakes and pastries.

  • Stuff pasta with farmers cheese.

  • You'll find a whole collection of dessert recipes using farmers cheese at Yummly.

  • I've used fresh farmers cheese as a substitute for cream cheese and for ricotta cheese. You can make your cheese creamier or drier by controlling how much whey is drained off, depending on how you wish to use it.

Suggested herbs to add to farmers cheese

Creamy farmer's cheese with added herbs makes a great dip for crackers or chips. Try these herbs in your next batch:

  • Crushed red pepper
  • Dill
  • Basil and garlic
  • Minced garlic, minced rosemary and freshly ground black pepper
  • Chives, dill, and parsley with horseradish and additional lemon juice - you'll find the details here

How to store farmers cheese

After your homemade farmers cheese has cooled down, place it in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to one week. 

To freeze farmers cheese, let it cool, then wrap it in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag. Use within three months. Let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

The texture of farmers cheese that has been frozen will be slightly different than fresh farmers cheese, but it's still delicious.

What to do with leftover whey

What can you do with all the whey that drained out of your farmers cheese? There are many uses for whey.


Whey can be used in the following ways and many more:

  • Use instead of skim milk to make ricotta cheese
  • Use whey as the liquid in bread dough and pizza dough
  • Add whey instead of milk to biscuit dough and pancake batter 
  • Use whey in lacto-fermented foods such as pickles and sauerkraut
  • Add whey to smoothies, or use when making fermented lemonade or ginger ale
  • Replace some of the water or stock in homemade soup with whey
  • Fertilize your tomato plants and other acid-loving plants with whey. Pour diluted whey at the roots. Calcium is good for tomato plants.
  • Feed leftover whey to your chickens
  • You can also feed whey to your goats as a supplement [Source]
  • Add whey to your compost pile. It's full of microorganisms that are great for your compost.

You can make cheese

Making goat cheese with lemon juice is fast and easy, and is the perfect cheese for goat owners to make as their first cheese project.

It's so satisfying to make your own cheese from scratch, like baking your own bread or gazing at a dozen jars of peaches that you canned yourself. 

Cheesemaking is a great skill to have, and is one more way to make healthy food for your family as well as to lessen your dependence on the grocery store. 

More soft cheeses you can make at home

Ricotta cheese is almost as simple to make, and can be made with the leftover whey from making farmer's cheese, or with fresh whole milk for a greater yield. Learn how to make ricotta cheese here.

Chèvre is a soft goat cheese that can be substituted for cream cheese, is delicious with salads and bread, and seems to make any dish just that much better. Learn how to make chèvre in this post.

While mozzarella cheese is a bit more challenging to make, it's definitely a cheese that we all love to eat and stretching the curds is rather fun. Learn how to make mozzarella cheese in this post.

Farmers cheese (this post you are currently reading) shows you how to make goat cheese with lemon juice or vinegar.

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Text: Learn how to make soft cheese such as this farmer's cheese (also known as lemon cheese). Soft cheese doesn't need a cheese mold or aging time, and can be used a substitute for ricotta or cottage cheese, or as a dip for crackers or chips.

In celebration of National Goat Cheese Month


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