How to Make Farmer's Cheese (Lemon Cheese)

How to make an easy soft cheese with simple ingredients

Several years ago in celebration of National Goat Cheese Month, I challenged myself to make a different kind of cheese from goat milk every week.

Some of the cheeses I'd made many times before, such as this farmer's cheese. It's delicious and so easy to make. It's a good substitute for cream cheese as well as being good in its own right.

You don't have to use goat milk, but if you're buying milk from the grocery store I recommend buying whole milk. Skim and low fat milk don't work as well for cheese making.

The first cheese I ever attempted to make years ago was farmer's cheese, which is sometimes called lemon cheese. It's an easy-to-make soft cheese that requires just milk and lemon juice. How easy is that?

Another version uses apple cider vinegar instead of lemon juice. I've tried both versions but I prefer the taste of the cheese made with lemon juice. If you'd rather try making vinegar cheese, just substitute apple cider vinegar for the lemon juice and follow the same directions.

Farmer's cheese doesn't require molding or aging. You can add herbs for more flavor if you wish.

It take just half a gallon of milk to make farmer's cheese.

To make farmer's 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)

Just in case you don't have cheese salt in your pantry, you can substitute a non-iodized salt instead. But continue reading to see which kind of salt is best and why.

You'll also need the following:

  • a large pot for heating the milk
  • a thermometer that attaches to the side of the pot, such as the candy thermometer pictured here
  • a large spoon
  • a wire strainer
  • cheesecloth
  • a large rubber band
  • a pitcher

Here's how to make farmer's cheese (aka lemon cheese) to use as a dip or cream cheese.

Pour a half-gallon (2 quarts) of whole milk into the pot, and attach a thermometer to the side of the pot. Be careful to not let the tip of the thermometer 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, stirring gently once around the pot, cover the pot, and set the oven timer for 15 minutes. 

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

The curds and whey have begun to separate in this pot of farmer's cheese.

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

However, sometimes I don't. When that happens, I add the juice of one more lemon, stir once around the pot, and wait another 15 minutes. After that I'm able to see that the curds and whey have separated. 

I'm always on pins and needles until I can see the difference, but this cheese hasn't failed me yet and after the additional waiting time it always works. Huge sigh of relief!

Strain the cheese curds from the whey using a cheese-cloth lined strainer.

Next, gently move the curds into a strainer lined with fine cheesecloth. (I love this Plyban cheesecloth by the way.) 

If you're using goat milk, be very gentle. Goat curds are fragile, so handle with great care. I scoop mine out with a measuring cup and carefully pour them into the cheesecloth-lined strainer.

You can let the whey go down the sink drain, but it's good for so many other things that I strain the cheese into a bowl. I use the whey to make skim milk ricotta cheese or to bake with; it can also be used in fermenting foods.

Gently strain the curds from the whey to make farmer's cheese (lemon cheese).

The next step is to drain the cheese.

Gather the corners of the cheesecloth together and make a knot with a rubber band, then stuck the handle of a plastic spoon through the knot. The handle lays across the top of a pitcher, and holds the cheesecloth bag and curds inside the pitcher so that the whey can drain off. 

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

Suspend the cheesecloth inside a pitcher to allow the soft cheese to drain.

Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth, and add cheese salt and herbs if desired. I added 1/8 teaspoon of salt and then tasted it; that was plenty. 

If you don't have cheese salt, you can substitute non-iodized salt. 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. 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, and coarse salt won't dissolve fast enough, so when making cheese other than farmer's cheese you should use cheese salt.

Allow the soft cheese to drain.

If you like a drier cheese, just drain it longer. We like it a little creamier. I've used it like cream cheese and as a substitute for ricotta cheese (you can learn how to make ricotta cheese here). Creamy farmer's cheese with added herbs makes a great dip for crackers or chips. 

It's really satisfying to make your own cheese, like baking your own bread or gazing at a dozen jars of peaches that you canned yourself. All are great skills to have, and they lessen your dependence on the grocery store. 

More cheese

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.

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.

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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.

Related posts:

In celebration of National Goat Cheese Month

This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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