Primal Kitchen Basics – Making Curds and Whey

Most people nowadays only know of curds and whey thanks to the children’s nursery rhyme, Little Miss Muffit.

Perhaps the main reason for this is that the white stuff filling the plastic bottles on the shelves of the supermarkets today bears little actual resemblance to real milk!

This sterile white liquid is a petri dish waiting to happen. Devoid of any indigenous good bacteria post heat treatment, if pasteurised milk is exposed to pathogenic bacteria they will thrive on the sugars in the milk turning it rancid and potentially harmful to human health.

Raw milk, on the other hand, when left to curdle, will naturally separate into curds (a soft creamy cheese) and whey (a yellowy liquid) thanks to the presence of naturally occurring lactobacilli in the milk metabolising the lactose. Because these friendly bacteria are already well established in the milk, they do not allow pathogenic invaders to take hold and proliferate.

OK, so this is all very interesting, but why would I want to make my own curds and whey?

Well firstly, the curds are delicious – Like cottage cheese but with actual taste! Plus they have the benefit of not having been stored in a plastic tub (reduced BPA exposure), and it is unpasteurised thus higher in beneficial gut flora, bio-available nutrients, and the cholesterol it contains has not been heat damaged.

Secondly, the by product, whey, is a very useful ingredient in the Primal kitchen, enhancing the production of other fermented foods and beverages such as sauerkrauts, kimchees and kvasses amongst many others. It can also be drunk as a tonic, either straight or mixed with water as it is extremely nutrient dense.


*Obligatory Health Warning!*

Please bear in mind that although the risks of contamination from pathogenic bacteria are low, it is still possible, and you try this recipe at your own risk. Please take every care to ensure all your surfaces, utensils and equipment are thoroughly clean, as are you when you handle them. Use your senses – If the finished products looks or tastes off, it probably is!

Equipment Needed

1 Glass Air Tight Mason/Kilner Jar

1 mixing bowl

1 square of cheese cloth/muslin cloth/tightly woven tea towel


Raw Milk

NB If you’re unsure about using raw milk, you can use live yoghurt, kefir or buttermilk instead – The whey produced will be identical, though the cheese will have a different texture/flavour.


Pour the raw milk into a clean mason/kilner jar (perhaps it would be advisable to sterilise them first, but I for one am too lazy and have never encountered a problem!).

Leave at room temperature in a dark cupboard for around 4 days, after which you will start to see the milk separate into three layers – Yellow cream on the top, thick white curds in the middle, and watery whey at the bottom. Depending on the temperature this may happen sooner or take longer.

At this stage you have the option to either skim the cream to use separately and turn the milk solids into cottage cheese, or leave it in to make a creamier full fat cheese. I usually opt for the latter.

Once the separation has started to occur, line the bowl with the muslin cloth, and pour the contents inside.

Gather up the edges of the cloth into a ball, and suspend over the bowl. Leave it to hang until the whey stops dripping (I usually just leave it over night).

Pour the whey which has collected in the bowl into a clean (sterile if you please) air tight jar, and store it in the fridge for up to 6 months. Marking the date on which you made it is probably a good idea.

The curds (also known as farmer’s/cottage cheese) can either be left as is, or you can add salt (preferably real salt) which will give it a drier consistency, and/or herbs and spices for flavour. These curds are also the raw ingredients for making other cheeses, both hard and soft, which is done through the addition of rennet (an enzyme which hardens the cheese) and additional cultures – But that’s the subject of another post!

20 thoughts on “Primal Kitchen Basics – Making Curds and Whey”

  1. Hi. Thanks for information on making curds and whey! Just one question. I have made this successfully for quite a while but the last couple of times, I have found small brown flecks on top of the cream (after 3 days) and another time, along with the same brown flecks, there appeared some white’ish patches of mold or fungus. Could this be a cleanliness problem do you think? I am usually very careful in this regard. Thanks for any comments.

    1. It could potentially be a cleanliness issue – Look out for any cracks or scratches in the container you’re using to ferment as these can harbour microbes. Washing with boiling water, or heating in oven/microwave could be a solution if you’ve got suitable containers that can take it. You can also get sanitising solutions from home brew stores which could work?

      Another possibility is that it’s just hotter at this time of year – If you’ve previously been making it over the winter you’ll see much slower growth of foreign invaders that you will in summer! It could also be different microbes present in the milk.

      A long way round of basically saying I don’t really know, sorry!

      1. Thanks SimonPrimal. I think that the problem might be as you suggest. Could be the warmer weather coupled with my being perhaps not quite as careful as usual. I will make sure I properly sterilize the containers in future. Thanks again!

  2. I tried to separated raw milk into curds and whey. after four days i had a jar filled with yellowish thick cream at the top, and what looked like 1% milk at the bottom. The milk came in a glass jar so I didn’t bother transferring it into a mason jar. Is this where I went wrong? Or was it a temperature issue? Also, What should I do with my end product? I don’t have the heart to throw it out. There isn’t an odor to it, maybe a slight yeast scent, but that is it. THank you!

    1. Hi Kate,

      Hmm – sounds like it actually worked to me! Though hard to say without being able to see.

      All that you expect to happen is the milk to separate into a congealed section which floats on the top of a watery section, which sounds like your description?

      Of course, I must at this point insert the obligatory disclaimer that if you do decide to eat whatever is breeding in your kitchen, you do so at your own risk, blah blah! 😉

      1. It was an opaque white, does that seem correct? A side note, thanks so much for your response! I appreciate the help

  3. should the lid be tight on the mason jar? or loose? a towel covering top vs lid? i have had my raw milk on the counter for at least 5 days and its taking forever to settle out. should i keep going or throw out and start over? is there a time limit that’s too long?
    also is fresh milk best to use or older milk ok?

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your comment!

      The jar can be airtight. The process of lacto-fermentation is anaerobic, so it doesn’t require that any air gets in. Keeping the jar sealed will prevent other microbes or flies getting in an contaminating the milk.

      I’ve only ever done it with fresh milk, though by the time the process has finished it will be old! 5 days does seem a long time, though the process is temperature dependent. If it’s cool in your kitchen it could take longer. You say it’s on the counter top? I’ve always kept mine in a dark cupboard, as this is usually what is recommended. Quite why this would be though, and whether it could be causing a problem I’m not sure?

      I’d say stick it in a cupboard for a couple more days and see what happens 🙂

  4. How many days can the raw milk sit out (to separate) I let mine sit out for probably 2 weeks…it smells fine and looks fine. Do you think its ok to use??

    1. Hi Veronica, thanks for your comment – sorry for the delay in reply, I’ve been travelling.

      Did you use the milk? Did you survive? 😉 In seriousness, I probably wouldn’t have liked to give you an answer even if I’d been around.

      You may find my more recent article on raw milk interesting:

      Hope your cheese turned out ok!

    2. Hi Veronica,
      When I make cottage cheese from my raw milk, it takes a long time to curdle. I’ve had it in the cabinet, I’ve had it on the counter. I’ve had a tight lid, I’ve had a cloth lid. It takes WEEKS. The only thing that ever makes it go faster is if the raw milk is NOT FRESH. If it’s been in my fridge for a month or two getting “sour”, it will make cottage cheese quickly once it’s left to stand. I’m always amazed at how raw milk stays fresh for such a LONG time.
      Remember, raw milk doesn’t typically “spoil” like pasteurized milk, but it does get sour. If your milk is really old, it can get to tasting VERY sour. So don’t wait too long!
      To speed things up, you can heat the milk and add some white vinegar to it. THis method makes the cheese within a couple of hours, but depending on how high you heat the milk, you are destroying the enzymes and other nutrients that make raw milk so nutritious and healing.
      You can find recipes online for “farmers cheese” or “raw milk cottage cheese” that use this method. Usually they boil the milk and quickly reduce the temperature. I plan to experiment to see if I can get curds at around 102 to 115 F. Best regards, and have fun!

    1. Hi Brent, sorry for the slow reply, been travelling.

      I haven’t.

      Personally, I’d stick with glass.

      I can’t say that I’ve seen any compelling evidence to make me scared of using plastic containers – I think the supposed risks of BPAs and other such compounds is most likely greatly over stated, if not completely negligable.

      Equally, however, I see no drawbacks to using glass, they can be purchased very cheaply nowadays, and the kilner jars in particular look much nicer in the kitchen, so I personally will stick with them while I have the option.

  5. First…will this work with low temp pasteurized milk? I notice when I leave it in the fridge it seperates, and I use the whey for the dogs. It smells like cheese.

    I have access to raw milk, so that is not a problem. How do I go from raw milk to quark?


    1. Hi Tammy,

      Thanks for your comment.

      In theory to do this with pasteurised milk, you’d need to add some kind of culture of “good bacteria”.

      The separation you are seeing is caused by some kind of microbe that’s got in there, but you have no way of knowing what type (TBH same is true for raw milk, though you’ve a much higher probability that it’s a good strain).

      The easiest way to do it with pasteurised milk would be to add some kefir grains, which are widely available nowadays. Alternatively, you could make the cheese using live yoghurt.

      I’m afraid I’ve no idea how you’d make quark!

      Good luck with your experiments 🙂

  6. Hi from my experience the older the raw milk the quicker it will turn to curds and whey once taken out of the fridge. It’s usually best to make yogurt with your freshest milk(less competitive bacteria) and cheese with your oldest.

    1. Please tell me how do i make firm curd from raw without heating. ..sometimes my raw milk when left at room temperature sepearate into whey n cheese while accidently it converted in form of firm curd.. how to make the latter.. i don’t want cheese.. i want firm curd without heating process

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