Saving Money on Starters


Homemade cheddar melting on top of last night’s Homemade Hamburger Helper.

Mesophilic starter is used in many hard cheeses made at moderate temperatures, such as cheddar, colby, monterey jack, and also in most soft cheeses. You can buy the direct-set in 5-packs for $5.95. This is the easiest way to go and I’ve bought a lot of them! But it’s the most expensive way to go, too. (Though if you buy twelve 5-packs, you get them for $3.00 each, which is what I did the last time I ordered.) OR you can buy a packet of starter that you can incubate yourself and will make a number of recipes. I’ve never tried this method. Another way to save money is to buy a big pack of the mesophilic powder that you can still use as direct-set (avoiding the incubating thing) and divide it up yourself!

As I noted in my gouda post, soft ripened and fresh cheeses such as gouda (and brie, camembert, and others) are best made with a special type of mesophilic starter that contributes to the more buttery flavor and soft texture of those cheeses. New England Cheesemaking only sells this special starter in bulk packages. Here is the tip I got from New England Cheesemaking expert Jim Wallace about dividing up bulk starter packages. Note that this pack, like the regular mesophilic big pack, is $11.00. I divided this pack up into twenty-nine 1/4 teaspoon packets! That’s about 30 cents a packet (as opposed to buying a direct-set packet for over $1.00 the expensive way in the $5.95 direct-set 5-pack.

By the way, the reason you want to divide up bulk packets the first time you open the package is because constantly exposing starter to the air is bad for the starter. It needs to be kept sealed until use to avoid possible contamination from ambient bacteria.

The first time you open a bulk pack of starter, pour it into a clean bowl. Tear or cut strips of aluminum foil into small pieces. Measure out the starter onto each strip of foil. I used 1/4 teaspoons for the special mesophilic starter.

A quarter teaspoon is the right amount for a two-gallon recipe. (If you’re using raw milk, you can use 1/8 teaspoon.) If I’m making a baby cheese, I’ll use half and save the other half for the next time, but I don’t want to open these packets more than once or at the most twice after I divide them up and seal them away.

After sealing up the divided starter into packets, I placed a few packets each into small plastic bags. Again, I want to open a baggie as few times as possible, so I divided them up. (This is for further protection of the starter.)

Then I put all the baggies into a labeled freezer baggie, along with the empty original package, and into the freezer.

A lot of starter, but not a lot of money!


  1. Sherry says:

    Thank you for the money saving tip- We’ve just started making farmhouse cheddar and appreciate knowing this before I have to buy another set of starters!

  2. princessvanessa says:

    My mom would be smiling at your frugality.
    Mom did not work outside of the home so she knew how to pinch pennies. One thing she did was to buy whole milk and powdered milk (back then it was quite economical); she made up the powdered milk and mixed it with the whole milk to make 2% milk. That saved about 35 cents a gallon and with 3 children it stretched the grocery budget.
    As much cheese as you make, saving 70 cents per packet of starter will add up quickly.

  3. Barbee' says:

    Makes me almost want to make cheeses… almost.

  4. Urbanite says:

    This was timely! I was just looking at the New England Cheese site because I need to buy more starter. I was considering preparing my own starter since that is much more economical. I think I’ll take your tip and divide a bulk container. It doesn’t sound like very much work and will be a lot easier to use.

  5. Leah's Mom says:

    I also purchase the larger packs of DS starters but I’m looking for ideas of a way to store the smaller amounts NOT using aluminum. Although I don’t like using plastic either, (and have been pretty diligent to use glass and items made from other inert materials for cooking and storing), I was thinking of using very tiny plastic bags if I could find out where to purchase them.

    BUT….I guess I need to do a little research on aluminum vs. plastic for freezer storage. Perhaps aluminum is most dangerous when it is being heated and it is not an issue in freezer storage??? Perhaps plastic is more of an issue in the freezer??

    …now you have the “researcher” part of my personality in full swing!

  6. Lisabeth Olson says:

    Thank you Suzanne, I just bought a bulk pack and intended to seperate it out into small quantities. I will definitely before I use any of it. :happybutterfly:

  7. Gem says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Suzanne!

  8. Deb says:

    Thanks for the info, I was planning on buying the one I culture too, now….I don’t know what would be best. Can you use this starter for cheddar to, I saw it was good for the softer ones, but wondered if you could use it for anything that called for that kind of starter.

    I’m so confused on the different Mesophilic starters that they have I guess…I didn’t realize there were so many different ones…so if we can only afford one which should we get…and what is the 2nd one you would get? LOL *sigh* I’m never going to fully understand this cheese making thing I don’t think. LOL

  9. Karen Anne says:

    It would be interesting to run a little test and see if keeping this in on glass jar in the frig would actually work. I’m not a fan of aluminum or using all that stuff that has to be thrown away.

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      If you’re opposed to aluminum (even for freezing), the trick would be to find something else to keep it in. The point is to protect the starter. It should be kept in the freezer, not the fridge, and the reason you want to separate it is so you don’t continually expose all of the starter to the air when you only need a little bit at a time. If you kept it in a glass jar, you would repeatedly expose the starter to ambient bacteria every time you opened it. You could seal the divided portions of starter in plastic or paper, if you prefer to try that–like tiny envelopes or very small baggies (like the snack size baggies) then seal it all up in a larger freezer baggie. Whatever you place the portions in should be as sterile as possible (considering the home environment). New plastic baggies and new aluminum straight off the roll.

  10. susan says:

    thank you for the moneysaving tip. My husband is building me a press this week so I am ordering everything to make different types of cheese. I have been making mozz. and rocotta for about a year,it’s time for me to branch out.
    Because of your showing us how easy cheese making is I’m ready to chalenge myself.
    I think that it is perfectly alright to use alum. foil in the freezer as you sugested. I will do that and then save the piees of foil to use again,saving even more $$.

  11. Deb says:

    You can get very small plastic baggies in the jewelry section of craft stores like Hobby Lobby. They would work well for small amounts of starter.

  12. Leah's Mom says:

    Question for you, Suzanne….

    Did you count how many packets you were able to get from the large pack? I always buy the large pack but I’m going to start dividing mine for freezing like you show here. (Previously I was keeping it in the large pack and opening it WAY MORE TIMES than I should.)

    I’m trying to compare prices of dividing these vs. purchasing 12 of the 5-packs. [If you purchase 12, they are $3.00 vs. $5.95; resulting price: $36 for 60 packets]

    I make cheese quite regularly so having 60 packets around isn’t as crazy as it sounds. If I’ve calculated correctly from the descriptions, it should still be less to purchase the large pack and divide it. But it would be helful to know exactly how many 1/4 tsp. packets I can actually get out of my large-pack rather than relying on my calculations which may be way off!!!

    So….it would be really great if you could let me know how many you actually got out of your large pack.


  13. Leah's Mom says:

    Yes- I forgot to say that the large packs I get are the are the MA 011 which are just the regular Mesophilic culture.

    Thanks for the quick reply. That is EXTREMELY HELPFUL! :yes:

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