If Only

December 11, 2007 at 10:33 am 16 comments

Moo cow says, You lookin' at me?  
One of the gracious bovines that provided the milk for this recipe.

If you were expecting a cranberry recipe today (as previously promised), I do apologize.  I still have two tasty cranberry concoctions to share with you later this week.  I’m just taking a small detour to talk about making cheese.  As those insurance commercials prophesize, “life comes at you fast.”   I found myself hurrying off to my parents’ farm this weekend in central Pennsylvania, helping my mom tackle a few of those undesirable challenges life occasionally throws at us.  She’s very limited in what she can eat at the moment, so much so that a quarter cup of soup is a major meal and a small triumph.  Let me tell you, it’s made me think a good deal about how much food, especially any overly-processed stuff, I put into my mouth every day without even thinking.  If only I had the will power to always eat the way I know I should eat.

Ah, the life of a barn cat
Ah, to have the life of a barn cat, curled up in the hay all day.

Being within a stone’s throw of a hundred head of milking cows, wholesome hormone-free raw milk was obviously the best “straight from the farm” ingredient within my reach this weekend.  Since cooking helps me worry less, I got busy in my mom’s kitchen with one of the world’s ancient preservation methods.  Curdling raw milk to form cheese is essentially a simplified form of pickling, which greatly increases its “shelf life.”  Cheese making, besides being an interesting activity for a gloomy winter’s day, is a great way to foster a deeper appreciation for what’s going into your mouth.   By slowing down to make the cheese myself, I became noticably more attentive to the resulting veggie and cheese stir fry (recipe tomorrow).  If only we all had the time and means to prepare and eat our meals in such a manner. 

Milk fresh out of the barn
Warm, frothy milk fresh from the barn/cow.

Let’s see a raise of hands for those of you who have made your own cheese.  Anyone?  If you haven’t, here’s a virtual demonstration of the world’s easiest cheese to make for yourself at home.  It’s a mild cow’s milk cheese hailing from India that can be produced as a soft curd, similar to ricotta, or as a hard disk, similar to feta, only without the salty bite.  You can even change its flavors with different blends of spices incorporated into the hot loose curds. If only everything was as easy as making this cheese, we’d all dine like maharajas every night.

Measuring out the cow's milk The spices - dill, ground mustard, salt and pepper Line a colander with cheese cloth The curds above the greenish whey
When life gives you curdled milk, make cheese.

Since few of us, myself included when I’m not at my family farm, have easy access to raw milk and/or lots of extra time on our hands with which to make cheese, it’s not realistic to make your own cheese every day.  But I would encourage you to try it, if only as an exercise in slowing down life, learning an ancient art form, and being more mindful of the food on your plate. 

Stirring the spices into the soft curds
Stirring the spices into the soft cheese curds.

Taken from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

2 quarts whole milk*
3 to 4 T. distilled white vinegar
salt, pepper, herbs and other spices as desired**

* Raw milk is the best to use here, but you can also use pasturized milk, as long as it’s not ultra-pasturized. Most store brands are ultra-pasturized so avoid those.  Instead, look for a semi-local diary’s brand, which usually isn’t subjected to the same high heat pasturization process since it doesn’t need to travel as far as the big name varieties. 

** You can get as creative as you like with the spices, or you can just leave the cheese plain.  For these batches, I used dried dill, ground mustard, salt and pepper in the soft curds and basil, cayenne, salt and pepper in the hard disk cheese. 

Soft curds of paneer hard Paneer
Soft curds of paneer on the left and a hard disk of paneer on the right.

To begin, put milk in a large non-reactive heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t scorch. 

While milk heats, place a colander in the sink and line with a clean dish towel or two layers of cheesecloth, making sure you have at least a 24 inch square. 

When milk begins to boil, turn the heat down to low.  Quickly add three tablespoons of vinegar and stir.  The mixture will curdle at this point and a thin greenish whey will seperate from the white fluffy curds.  If this does not happen, add the remaining tablespoon of vinegar and stir until curds seperate.  Remove from heat and empty the contents of the saucepan into the colander.  Most of the whey will drain off.  If you want seasonings, gently stir in after the cheese has drained for a minute or two.

If you like soft curds (good for sauces, stir-frys or on bread). allow cheese to drain for about 10 minutes, afterwhich cheese is ready to use.  Can be stored for a day or two in the fridge in an airtight container.
(makes about 2 cups of curds)

Twisting the cheese cloth to squeeze out the whey when forming hard paneer
Twisting the cheesecloth to squeeze out the whey for hard paneer.

If you prefer a harder cheese (good for frying, cubing and slicing), allow curds to sit in the colander for about 15 minutes until all the visible whey has drained off. Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and twist to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.  This will create a round bundle.  Keep the cloth tightly twisted  and lay the bundle on an upside down plate in the sink.  Use your hands to flatten out the cheese bundle a bit, making sure the cloth stays tightly twisted.  Put another plate on top of the cheese and place approximately five pounds of weight on top and allow cheese to sit for another 15 minutes.  Carefully unwrap cheese from cloth and use within a day or two.  Cheese is best stored wrapped in a damp clean cloth and placed in an air-tight container in the fridge. 
(makes a 4″ x 1″ patty)

Cheese wrapped up and placed on plate to drain under pressure
For hard paneer, place the wrapped cheese on an upside down plate in the sink to drain under pressure.


Entry filed under: Preserves, Recipes. Tags: , , , , , , .

Shape Shifter Time to Eat!

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cheryl  |  December 11, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    What can you then do with the whey?

  • 2. Jennie  |  December 11, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Cheryl – I’ve only ever thrown it out, but I understand that you can use it to make riccotta cheese and, obviously, it’s possible to use it as a protein supplement. Personally I find it rather unappealing looking/smelling so haven’t experimented further. 🙂

  • 3. taylor  |  December 11, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    You’re amazing! (And I want to squeeze the kitties.)

  • 4. VegeYum  |  December 11, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Actually you can drink the whey with a few spices, and it is beautiful. I will post on that sometime in the next month. You can use it in bread or soup making, and even to help curdle your next batch of paneer. I have heard of people who throw away the cheese and keep the whey!!!

    I am not a proficient paneeer maker yet – I keep trying and I think it is greatly influenced by the milk used. One day, I will find the right one, and my method will click in – I hope – just like pasta making took me a few tries to get the right consistency dough. Now I can’t imagine how I ever managed to mess it up. Isn’t it strange how that works.

  • 5. Jennie  |  December 12, 2007 at 7:10 am

    Taylor – Gosh golly, gee thanks! And the kitties would love to be squeezed. 🙂

  • 6. Jennie  |  December 12, 2007 at 7:13 am

    VegeYum – Oh, yes, please do post on using whey!! I am too chicken to try it myself but if you show us some good suggestions, I might just dive in, especially with using it in soups and bread (still don’t think I’d ever drink it up). As for making paneer, I’ve typically used the fresh milk from my family farm so it’s always been a breeze. I’m guessing in your past attempts that were less than perfect, you might have been using ultra-pasturized milk, which doesn’t curdle since it was processed with such high heat. Can you get any milk directly from a dairy near you? Homemade paneer is so lovely, it’s worth the effort to seek out a good source. Thanks so much for the hints about the whey! 🙂

  • 7. Time to Eat! « Straight from the Farm  |  December 12, 2007 at 12:04 pm

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  • 8. Eatnpozzum  |  December 23, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Heh, just tried it….and it works! After studying the milk isle for about 10 minutes, I came to the conclusion that all the milk in cardboard containers is ultra-pasteurized. The store-brand (Food-Lion) half gallon in plastic worked though.

    I drained the mix into a collindar lined with the wife’s kitchen towels, compressed while warm, then mixed it in a bowl with crushed red pepper, salt, and Texas Pete for color. I pressed it a second time, then formed it into a ball. I think a blender would give it a more uniform texture, but this was my pilot run, and will apply what I learned next time.

    I tried it before adding the spices, and it kinda reminded me of ricotta or chevarie without the tangy “goat” taste.

  • 9. Jennie  |  December 23, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Eatnpozzum – Excellent! Since I hadn’t tried this with store-bought milk myself, I’m so glad to hear you had success (with a store-brand no less). I’m intrigued by your plan to use the blender next time…it would probably give it a smoother texture. Report back if you do try it. Generally speaking though, traditional paneer is meant to be a little coarser in texture. But definitely make it the way you like it best. So glad you tried it! 🙂

  • 10. Pairadactyls  |  January 12, 2008 at 1:40 pm


    Your paneer pics make this a never-fail method. Thanks for clarity!

    Is there a way of preserving paneer, either hard or soft, for keeping longer than a day or two? I’m supposing that’s why feta is brined. We don’t go through cheese too fast, esp. when we enjoy a variety of ’em, and would prefer being able to keep it round a week or so. Thanks!

  • 11. Jennie  |  January 12, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Pairadactyls – Glad to be of help! You have a good question about storage…I generally just use mine immediately (I wait to make it when I know I’m hungry enough to want a meal of it). That being said, the hard cheese can be frozen and then thawed in the fridge overnight prior to using it. The soft cheese needs to be used promptly as it doesn’t freeze well. You can make smaller batches of it…the recipe is easy to cut in half or you can make the full recipe and squeeze half of the curds to make hard cheese to freeze and use the other half as soft curds right away.

  • 12. Valerie  |  January 24, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    My recipe for ricotta is identical for your recipe for paneer! I wonder what the difference, if, if any, between the two cheeses.

    When I first started making ricotta, I did a little research. Some recipes add cream; some use lemon juice or buttermilk instead of vinegar. But in all cases the basic technique is the same: heat milk, add an acid, let curdle, and drain. Salt to taste.

  • 13. Jennie  |  January 25, 2008 at 7:30 am

    That’s so odd, Valerie… I haven’t made my own ricotta (yet) so I would guess that maybe they are the same thing, just called by different names in different cultures? I know store bought ricotta has a lot more moisture than my homemade paneer, but otherwise I guess the taste is about the same when I leave it plain. Hmmmm… well, I’m taking a cheese class in March that will demonstrate how to make ricotta (and four other cheeses) so I’ll be sure to discuss the differences when I learn more. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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