By Emma Grace Fairchild:
As someone who loves to cook and play in the kitchen, making cheese was my dream — one I never thought would be attainable. That was, until I was invited to a friend’s house to make “paneer,” a traditional soft cheese commonly found in Indian cuisine. It was so simple that I started making it at home with great results. The best way to describe this cheese is a soft or semi-soft fresh cheese. In other words, this food is not made using fermentation or bacteria. Instead, a simple chemical reaction separates the fat from the protein, then a cheesecloth is used to strain the liquid and leave a pile of delicious curd-y cheese. I have heard this cheese called paneer, ricotta, and farmer’s cheese. I think any of these names would be appropriate.
This is the most simple recipe, which I have made with whole cow’s milk and also using fresh goat’s milk. It is important not to use ultra-pasteurized milk, as the fats will not be able to separate. And, of course, use organic milk from grass-fed animals if possible. Some recipes add buttermilk or cream for extra results, but I find that goat’s milk works just fine for me.
You will need
- 1 gallon of whole milk (cow or goat, not ultra-pasteurized)
- ¼-½ cup lemon juice or organic vinegar
- pinch of high quality fine salt
- large, fine mesh strainer
- large bowl for collecting whey
In a large pot, heat the milk and salt until simmering, not boiling. Stir frequently to avoid its sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the milk simmers, turn off the heat and add the acid (either lemon juice or vinegar), stirring well. You should start to see the curds solidify and turn into chunks fairly quickly. If you used ¼ cup of acidity but don’t see any curds, add 1 tablespoon at a time until you do see the curds form. I let it sit for about 10 minutes to cool just a bit to get every bit of coagulation.
Line a fine mesh strainer with 3-4 single layers of cheesecloth cut into 8- to10-inch squares (depending on your strainer). Carefully pour the entire contents through the strainer and cheesecloth, which will catch the curds. The liquid filtered through is the whey, which is basically water and protein. I tend to have a little over ½ gallon of whey per 1 gallon of goat’s milk, so be sure to have a large enough bowl underneath the strainer. Pull the corners of the cloth to the center, tie together and gently squeeze. This will result in fairly wet farmer’s cheese, so I typically put a clean bowl or plate on top of the cheesecloth while the cheese is still in the strainer and let it drain for another few hours. Do this in the fridge if leaving it to drain longer than 4 hours. Your cheese is finished whenever it reaches a consistency you like! Then you can add finely chopped herbs, ground spices, or garlic to make a unique and flavorful fresh cheese. This can be served with crackers or baguette, sprinkled onto a salad, stuffed into blintzes, used in lasagne, or used any other way you can imagine!
The leftover whey is also a great product (although a bit sour; a little sometimes is all you need). Some people pour it out, but I like to save it and add a ¼ to ½ cup of it into sweet fruit smoothies for the protein. You can also use it in soups, bread recipes, or to pre-soak grains before cooking.