I've considered using mother cultures, but since I have only enough time and money to make at most one cheese per week, I've concluded that there is little that I would gain by making mother cultures. I don't believe it is practical or especially economical to use mother cultures at very low levels of cheese production, particularly when making vastly dissimilar cheeses that require completely different cultures from one week to the next.
In a nutshell, using mother cultures can help you obtain greater consistency from make to make as compared to measuring small amounts of DVI freeze-dried culture since your innoculation will be more consistent than you can possibly manage by measuring the dry DVI culture in fractional teaspoons. If you make a lot of cheese, the cultures will also cost you less in the long run. They are optimally kept in the fridge and used within a week of making them. They can save you about 20 to 30 minutes of ripening time per make if you use fresh, not frozen, mother culture. Freezing them is possible, but it reduces the time savings somewhat during the make, and it affects cell viability and thus must be compensated for when pitching the culture.
Here are the main reasons why I concluded that making mother cultures would not be beneficial for me, and in fact would impede my cheesemaking and needlessly increase the complexity:
- Although cultures can be frozen, and many people do, it is not optimum and would not be practical for me. Freezing the culture impacts cell viability to some extent, which varies depending on how fast it is frozen, what temperature it is maintained at, and for how long. This viability impact cannot be calculated exactly for a number of reasons, so experimentation is needed to determine proper pitching rate as a culture ages to ensure consistency from one make to the next. Therefore, freezing a mother culture only introduces another confusing variable to my beginning cheesemaking efforts.
- A fresh culture has a very limited shelf-life, about one week for most consistent results. Using the same fresh non-frozen culture for more than one make is not practical for me. As a beginning cheesemaker, I am making a different type of cheese each time, often using completely different cultures. Since I'm not repeating makes of the same cheese yet, consistency from make to make is not relevant, but culture viability over time is. I cannot use all of a fresh non-frozen mother culture before it spoils or becomes non-viable. Making the mother culture would waste my time and money.
- Saving 20 to 30 minutes of ripening time per make is inconsequential at my rate of cheesemaking. Since I am unlikely to be able to use a mother culture more than once, the potential time saved in the make is more than negated by the amount of time I'll spend making the mother culture.
Here are some good threads that helped me understand mother cultures and why they are not a good fit for me, and probably not a good fit for most low volume beginning cheesemakers, despite the frequent recommendations to the contrary:Consensus on propagating mother cultures from DVI packets?Making Mother Cultures - A Photo EssayOkay, My Head Is SpinningPropagating Starter Cultures
Strangely enough, those threads tend to promote the idea that using mother cultures is an advantage for anyone. But a careful reading of the threads clearly show that it is not. Mother cultures make more sense if you are going to use the same fresh unfrozen one for more than one consecutive make over a very short period of time. Otherwise, they just take more time than they save, waste ingredients due to spoilage, and introduce other variables that are difficult to compensate for, especially for a beginner like me.