Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Easy cheese

Would you believe me if I told you that you could make really yummy cheese right now with stuff that you probably have in your refrigerator?

Do you have some milk, an acid (lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, vitamin C?) and some seasonings? Do you have an old t-shirt? Then you're ready. Seriously!

What does it taste like? Sort of like a mix between Boursin and cream cheese. It's really good on warm bead.

I'd been wanting to try making mozzarella, but for that you need 2 things that are not found in the typical kitchen, a mozzarella culture and rennet. So I figured that one of these days I would have to try that, and I sort of put the whole idea on the back burner.

Then a few days ago I made a really excellent sweet potato curry, and it got me thinking about some other Indian dishes I enjoy, and I was looking up something to try when I came across a post talking about how easy it was to make paneer. Paneer is the cubed, white cheese often found in some Indian dishes. Reading the recipe, I discovered that I could make it with nothing more than some sort of acid to curdle the milk. Score!

So I tried it; and it was really good. My Indian dish didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but the cheese part was good; and I took the extra cheese and spiced it with garlic powder, salt and chives and let it sit a day in the fridge. We spread that over warm flatbread and I'll tell you what, I could eat that all day long. It would be killer on bagels too.

Is it really easy? Totally easy!

Take a half gallon of whole milk, put it in a pot and heat it over medium heat until it just starts to boil. Slowly pour in your acid. I used vitamin C granules; but you could use lemon or lime juice - I even saw one recipe that used buttermilk. Immediately the milk will start to curdle. I know what you're thinking - why am I spoiling perfectly good milk? You'll just have to trust me, almost all cheese starts this way. How will you know when you've added enough? The whey will be almost clear. It doesn't take much; 3 pinches of my powdered vitamin C. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then line a colander with cheese cloth if you have it, or a t-shirt or bandanna or something like that if you don't. Pour it out, then rinse the curds with cold water for a few minutes, to both wash off the acid and cool them down. Then gather up your ball of curds and squeeze all the liquid out of it that you can. Set a weight of some sort on top of it and park it in the fridge for half an hour. Pour off any liquid that collects and you're about ready to go.

Mine was pretty crumbly at this point, so I kneaded it with just a tiny bit of flour, and let it rest in the fridge for another hour and it seemed to firm up quite a bit. It's ready to eat as is, or you can season it. Chives, salt and garlic powder worked great for me, but it's really a blank slate - go nuts. Nuts? Mmmm, chopped walnuts and honey! That's what I'm going to make tonight.

Edit - made the honey walnut version; it's excellent. This is the yield from about 1/3 of a gallon of whole milk by the way.

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