Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to Make Cheese

I've been itching to make some cheese ever since that chapter in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where the Kingsolvers take a cheese making workshop with Cheese Queen Ricki Carroll. Now, I love cheese like nobody else, but when Barbara Kingsolver writes about it I'm completely transported. I'm right there with her in the kitchen with the rennet and whey and curds.

So, this weekend I decided to try my hand at two very simple cheeses. Nothing artisan, nothing complicated, no rennet involved. I'm talking about the kind of cheese everybody's Grandma used to make. The kind of cheese all yogurt-making cultures in the world make. A simple yogurt cheese, or Labneh. And a slightly more complicated but still oh, so simple, Paneer. I had no idea what I would actually use these cheese for once I made them. I just wanted to figure out how to make them.

Both cheese were so simple I was able to make them in the same day. I started with the Labneh, which only involved plopping a cup or so of organic, whole-milk yogurt into a cheese cloth, twisting the cloth tight and hanging it up to drip.

I first tied it to the faucet over the kitchen sink, but since I had to keep using the kitchen sink this wasn't too practical.

I ended up finding the perfect hanging device, an old Edible Arrangements metal basket.

6 hours later I had yogurt cheese, which looks and tastes like the most luxious cream cheese you've ever tasted.

For true Labneh I could have transferred the cheese attached to the hanging device into the refrigerator and left it there overnight. I'm guessing I would have gotten firmer and maybe tangier results. But this yogurt cheese was out of this world. So good in fact, that it inspired me to make something worthy of it: two enormous Apple Cheese Danish Braids.

I've never made danishes before, but boy did I luck out when I found this recipe on the How-To Baker Blog. This was truly the best danish I've ever eaten, especially hot out of the oven.

For the second cheese, paneer, I waited until closer to dinner time on Sunday night. I wanted to make the paneer to go with dinner and wanted to use the whey by-product as a broth in the vegetable soup I was making that night. I looked at all kinds of recipes and you tube videos, but one of the better recipes came from the Paupered Chef Blog. I didn't follow her advice to the letter, but here's how I made mine:

I simmered a quart whole, organic and pasteurized milk (Don't use ultra-pasteurized. It won't work.) until near-boiling. By near-boiling I mean the milk was just starting to bubble and froth.

Once the milk reached the near-boiling stage, I turned off the burner and added the juice of about 3-4 lemons and stirred and stirred. After less than a minute the curds began to appear, and I continued to stir until the whey looked greenish-yellow and not milky at all.

I let the whole thing sit in the pot for about five minutes and then poured it into a cheese cloth draped over a collander, which I'd placed inside a mixing bowl. You could just strain it over the sink, but I wanted to save the whey.

Then I twisted up the cheese cloth to wring out any excess whey, then folded the cloth over the cheese and placed in on a plate with a very heavy cast-iron tea kettle filled with water on top of it. This I let sit for about 15 minutes, but it probably should have sat for at least 30.

None the less, I had beautiful scrumptious paneer, which I proceeded to cube, dip in a corn meal batter and fry in olive oil.

This tasted lovely with our soup. Though I have to say, the whey was a little sour as a broth, at least for our tastes. I wonder if I'd used vinegar instead of lemon juice, if it would have been less so.

This was such a fun weekend project! I ended up getting three treats out of it: corn meal-fried paneer, apple cheese danishes and labneh samosas. (I just made my samosa dough and stuffed it with cheese instead of lentils.)

Next weekend...homemade yogurt.

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