This recipe was my first foray into cheese making at home. I came across it in an Indian cookbook while I was searching for something like Sag Paneer. I was pleasantly surprised when this same process was presented during the dairy class at Earthwise Farm & Forest.
This is cheese 101. It is easy to make with no special ingredients. I have yet to mess this up even though I have certainly tried. Sometimes the cheese is softer with small curds like ricotta; sometimes the curds are larger and firm like feta. This really has everything to do with the temperature the milk comes to, the amount of acid added, and hang time. Hang time is how long you allow the cheese to drain while tied in a cheese cloth.
I make this cheese using my own scientific trial and error method and am never disappointed with the results.
Whole milk & lemon juice. Approximately 1/2c juice to a gallon of milk
Heavy bottom pan to heat milk
Yup. I even included utensils in this long list. It is important to use whole milk but it does not matter if the milk is raw or pasteurized, homogenized or not. A fine mesh cheese cloth works better and is easier to clean but a more open weave (pictured) can also be used.
To begin: Heat milk, while stirring over medium-low heat. Watch the milk, just under the surface bubbles will try to form to boil. When the milk approaches a boil and frothy foam has formed, reduce to low and stir in lemon juice. Appreciate the cool food science of it all as the curds and whey separate. Turn off the heat and stir until curds have formed and the whey is clear. If the whey is still milky or there are very few curds, return to the heat and repeat the process by adding more acid. Gently pour or ladle the cheese curd into a strainer lined with a cheese cloth.
This is a great time to salt or flavor if desired. Try salts or chopped herbs and dried fruits. Add flavors after the liquid has been poured off but before left to hang. Using a string, tie the corners of the cheesecloth into a ball and suspend over a bowl or sink and leave to drain. The longer it hangs the firmer the cheese. Resist the urge to squeeze out the liquid.
Rarely do I produce a dry crumbling cheese but when I do, I use it like tofu. Add to veggies, either cooked or raw and in salads. Softer cheeses get spread on crackers or added to pastas like stuffed shells. We snacked on this batch of cheese, putting it on crackers garnished with baby sprouts of lettuce and basil from our front porch container garden.
You might have also collected the yellowish clear liquid that is Whey. Whey taste a bit like lemon juice, if you have a wild hair, sugar can be added to make a nourishing type of lemonade. Whey can be stirred into soups & sauces and is sometimes used to preserved food or treat stomach ailments. Add a tablespoon to dried beans while soaking to aide in digestion later.