And so my journeyman’s venture into cheesemaking begins anew. It’s not that I had an emotional break from the cheesemaking process, it’s just that for a short while, other things occupied my mind.
But now I’m back. A girl’s gotta practice, after all. Otherwise, how else will I ever be able to build my cheesemaking empire? I’m looking at you, Kraft.
I didn’t want to do anything super-challenging since I haven’t made cheese in a while, so I decided to try the paneer. Paneer is a very simple, basic Indian cottage cheese that’s kind of the equivalent of queso blanco. It’s unaged and mild, with no melt or stretch, but it holds up well to frying and that? Is pretty awesome. I used the recipe found in the book Artisan Cheesemaking at Home and like it, but I’m always willing to hear from more experienced cheesemakers than myself (which is, pretty much, anyone else out there making cheese) regarding tips and techniques for mighty cheese mastery.
Here’s what you need:
Note: Have a backup plan for the leftover buttermilk, because you won’t need all of it and then? Who wants to find a carton of buttermilk you’ve forgotten about and has been sitting in your fridge for untold months? Not this girl.
As I’ve mentioned before, cheese is viciously boring to photograph. It doesn’t turn brown (you hope), it doesn’t start out white and then caramelize, it doesn’t wilt. What it does, is slowly get raised to the appropriate heat…
…and once you add the coagulating agent, it will start to curdle.
So, OK, I know I sort of posted a spoiler, but once you bring your 2 1/2 quarts of 2% milk to 175-180°, then you pour in 5 cups buttermilk, your coagulant. The above picture is what you’ll start to see almost right away, and once you get the temperature to about 195°, the curds will have fully reached tight cheese cohesion and formed a giant mass in the middle of your pot.
Before you pull the curds out to drain, you should remove the pot from heat, cover said pot and let the curds “ripen” for five minutes. Then retrieve them, gently, with a slotted spoon, into a colander lined with cheesecloth (any notion about where the name comes from?) so the whey can drain off. You should try to find some productive use for whey as I understand it can be murder on one’s waste disposal system.
Ooh, murder. Tres dangereuse.
Anyway, tie up the corners of the cheesecloth so the cheese is in a nice, secure package and give it a good drain…
…for ten minutes, then toss it with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and return it to its draining spot for another ten minutes.
Finally, you press it. This cheese has been through so much–boiled, drained, hung, tossed. And now? Pressed. Keeping it in the cheesecloth wrapping, get it relatively flattened and then? Fill one of your used milk containers with water, which will create roughly 4 1/2 pounds of weight with which to press your cheese.
Notice I used the old “rack in the rimmed baking sheet” approach. Works like a charm.
Once you’ve pressed it for at least a half an hour/when it’s as dry as you’d like it to be, it’s ready to use. Either put in the fridge for later use or cook with it right away. Us? We made a palak paneer that was so good and creamy and rich that I didn’t want to take the time to photograph it because that would interfere with me getting my eat on. But when you’ve got cheese this fresh and sexy…
…there’s not much that can go wrong with a meal.