Adventures in Cheese Making

http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/cheese-making-zbcz1310.aspx

cheese makingAfter conquering homemade yogurt, I started thinking about cheese making. Some of the preliminary research I had done on it, which wasn’t a lot, indicated it wasn’t that hard. Enter a company called Cultures for Health, which specializes in all kinds of cultures for yogurt, cheeses, kefir, sour dough, to name but a few. The next few blogs will be about my adventures in simple cheese making and the results. 

Cheese making is a complete departure for me. Baking and cooking are my mainstream, but one should always try to expand one’s horizons, if not repertoire. The result is, Cultures for Health offers cheese kits. Kits? Now this sounds like a reasonable plan: Simple to start, learn the basics, and build your repertoire from simple to more complex. So we started with ricotta/mozzarella and blanco queso/paneer. As for the paneer, I used to have a Punjabi neighbor, Bel, who was a fabulous cook, and she made Indian cheese as she called it. It was delicious. Of course, it was always in a curry style dish. Along the way, I also got some of the cultures for yogurt and kefir. I’d seen kefir, but never tried it. I tried the yogurt starter right away, and found it to have more flavor and a very nice, thick creamy texture, more flavor than the brand of starter I currently have access to. It’s almost like the Greek style yogurt I’m enamored of. We were off to a good start.

The cheese kits come with butter muslin (like cheesecloth), citric acid, cheese salt, rennet, a good instruction booklet, and the most nifty, little thermometers. Contents can vary by the type of cheese you’re making. They also offer online and phone support. So far, I haven’t needed to go that route. They also list all of the equipment you will need, such as colanders, large bowls, spoons, etc. 

Let’s get started (I know someone else who uses that line). The first thing you have to realize is you will need milk. Large quantities. It’s truly amazing how much milk is needed to do any quantity of serious cheese making. A friend suggested I get a cow. Or at least a share in one. I politely declined. But, I did get a strange look from the cashier at the store when I slung two bags of milk on the check out. I just explained (why did I need to explain the equivalent of two gallons of milk?) I was making cheese. That didn’t help. I got a really strange look then. Like uh-oh, this one’s a wacko. “Cheese making, huh?” Then I was in real hot water and explained I am an official blogger for MOTHER. Instant oil on water. The other thing for those not initiated in the ways of Canadians, is our milk indeed comes in bags at the gallon level. One large bag has three smaller bags inside, each smaller bag equaling a liter. Three liters give you a little more than a gallon. I dutifully measured out a gallon just to be sure.

On cheese making day, I got out a large stainless steel pot (stainless is recommended for everything), poured in my milk, added the dissolved citric acid in warm water, stirred, and right away things started to happen. I heated the milk to 195 F, at which point (actually before), the curds separated from the whey. It was almost like magic, and quite magical to watch. The one caveat is that when milk gets near its boiling point, it wants to become rambunctious. Once the curds settle to the bottom, you then scoop them out into a muslin-lined colander and let the whole thing drain. To facilitate the draining, I tied up the corners of the muslin, stuck a large metal shish kebob skewer through the knot, and hung it over the colander. From there you place the curds in a dish, and weight them down with a heavy object, I took the advice of the directions and used a cast iron Dutch oven (I covered the cheese with plastic wrap first).  After 30 to 60 minutes, you flip the cheese and then press the other side. I ended up with at least a pound of semi-firm paneer, very mild with a delicious flavor.

The booklet comes with recipes on how to use some of the cheese, so I made the one for Cold Peas and Paneer Salad, only I didn’t make it a salad. I made the sauce as they recommended, but served the whole thing hot over basmati rice. Delicious. I think I could rival Bel now in one of her curries. However, to come up to her standards, I’d have to add a lot more spice! So, the moral of the story is, as the booklet explained, paneer is almost like tofu in the sense that it takes on the flavors of the foods around it. 

The recipe only used ½ the amount of cheese, so I snacked on some, my son came home from university and I had him try some, and then later on I noticed an empty container in the sink. Proof positive that among the late teen set, paneer cuts the mustard, ur, ah, cheese world.

Next time:  Ricotta!

Notes: Cultures for Health. See www.culturesforhealth.com or info@culturesforhealth.com; 1-800-962-1959.

You can read more of Sue Van Slooten's food adventures at www.suevanslooten.com.