Hi there --
I'd like to get my boyfriend a cheesemaking kit for his birthday -- surprise honey -- but the ones recommended on chowhound seem to be for particular types of cheeses: Mozzarella and Ricotta etc.
Is there a general one folks like? Or one for soft and one for hard?
I tried cheesemaking. I did mozzarella and ricotta. I aspired to doing more complicated things but never quite got there though I did buy a kit. I bought my kit from New England Cheesemaking supply:
I was happy with it though I haven't done it for a long time. I got the kit for making goat cheese too but at the time I got it, I didn't realize how tricky it was to find goats milk. After a bit, it all got a little complicated for this apartment dweller.
But the mozzarella was fun and tasty, as was the ricotta, and I used the left over whey to try to make gjejost or whatever you call it. And if you live in New England, you can send your boyfriend to a cheesemaking class!
This is another site with cheesemaking kits but I'm pretty sure I got my stuff from the New England place.
Goat milk isn't hard to find in San Francisco, SarahKC. I know Rainbow has it. If you go to Rainbow, have a chat with the people in the cheese department. There's a guy called Gordon who's very, very knowledgeable and helpful. I don't know the other folks as well but it's a good department all around.
First the question or observation about all kits being cheese specific. That is largely because cheeses are made in different ways. Soft and fresh cheeses (ricotta, mozz, farmer's, cream cheese, mascarpone) can pretty much be made with the simple kits you find. The kits are probably rennet, cheesecloth, thermometer, instructions, and a mesophilic starter.
When you get into hard cheeses, the complication goes up hugely. You need a climate-controlled area (the regular fridge is too cold -- room temp way too hot) and usually forms, a press, the ability to apply molds regularly, etc.
As to a specific recommendation, sounds like you've seen some already. I like cheesemaking.com that Jenn recommended for supplies, though I started sans kit.
Not that you asked, but Trader Joe stores in the Bay Area carry goat milk.
Another vote for New England Cheesemaking Supply from me. If you e-mail Jim, their tech guy--cheese tech, that is--he gets back to you pretty quick with some really good info. If your boyfriend is interested in making more than just ricotta or mozzarella, then you might consider getting the book Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll, who is the owner of New England Cheesemaking Supply. I really like that book, as it covers all kinds of cheeses. I'm sure there are other wonderful books and websites from other suppliers as well. NE Cheesmaking is just the one I happen to have experience with, so I can recommend them.