. . . And Knitting Them Together in Curds

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The intricate structure of casein micelles can be disturbed in several ways that cause the micelles to flock together and the milk to curdle. One way is souring. Milk’s normal pH is about 6.5, or just slightly acidic. If it gets acid enough to approach pH 5.5, the capping-casein’s negative charge is neutralized, the micelles no longer repel each other, and they therefore gather in loose clusters. At the same acidity, the calcium glue that holds the micelles together dissolves, the micelles begin to fall apart, and their individual proteins scatter. Beginning around pH 4.7, the scattered casein proteins lose their negative charge, bond to each other again and form a continuous, fine network: and the milk solidifies, or curdles. This is what happens when milk gets old and sour, or when it’s intentionally cultured with acid-producing bacteria to make yogurt or sour cream.