Adventures in Cheesemaking: Paneer

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:

About as uncomplicated as it gets.

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…

Bringin’ the sexy to the cheese blog.

…and once you add the coagulating agent, it will start to curdle.

Early curds. Oh yeah, it gets even better.

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.

Kind of like Pangaea, only with delicious cheese.

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…

Show it no mercy.

…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.

It’s a pretty effective presser.

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…

Who loves ya, baby?

…there’s not much that can go wrong with a meal.

Nosh: Goat Cheese and Mushroom Tortas (sort of)

There I was, with a barrel full of homemade goat cheese, a hungry vegetarian and a need for dinner.  What to do, what to do?  And then I saw it, in Food & Wine magazine: Rick Bayless’s mushroom and goat cheese tortas.

For those of you who don’t know, Rick Bayless is the gringo king of Mexican cuisine.  He was born into a family of Oklahoma barbecue restaurateurs, but thanks to love and college made a multi-year trek through Mexico which resulted in a cookbook that revolutionized the North American concept of Mexican cooking.  So who am I to quibble with a recipe of his?  This is the man who, according to the people who reviewed his book, single-handedly changed a national perspective on an ethnic cuisine, and this is no small feat.  Just make the recipe the way that God and Rick Bayless intended, and go on with my dinner, right?  Right!

Only…

You see, I get that Mexican tortas are traditionally supposed to be sandwiches, on beautiful, crusty bolillo rolls, but I didn’t want a sandwich.  I didn’t want all that bread for dinner; I eat enough carbs in the pasta I will never give up, and I can guarantee you I had some sort of sandwichey thing at some point in the day.  Blah blah blah whatever, it all comes down to this: I didn’t want to prepare it on a sandwich roll and (we’ve heard this from me before, haven’t we?) I have no respect for the integrity of a recipe.  And I had a red bell pepper and a poblano that I had to put to good use before they went off, and can you cook peppers without onions, in any cuisine?  No, friends.  I think not.

Delicious interlopers!

I did make the mushrooms almost entirely as directed, and thanks to Rick Bayless’s genius, they were amazing.  Take a ton of ‘shrooms which should ideally all be fresh, but this is central PA and my access to things like oyster mushrooms are limited.  I rehydrated a bunch of dried oyster mushrooms I had in my pantry and will use the now-frozen mushroom broth in a vegetarian onion soup, but I digress…

Mushrooms!

And cut them in thin slices.  They go into a baking dish with the garlic-lime confit you’ve already roasted (two heads of peeled garlic, a half-cup of oil, one quarter cup of lime juice and some salt, 325°, one hour, and hallelujah) though in the spirit of full disclosure, I tell you now I didn’t put all the oil from the confit into the mushrooms; it just seemed like a little too much.  I reserved about half of it and turned it into a lovely roasted garlic citrus vinaigrette with the simple addition of a little mustard and the juice from a clementine.  Score!

Anyway, mushrooms and confit go into a 400° oven for ten minutes covered and 35 minutes not, and when they’re done mix in the cilantro at the end.  You’ll get something that looks a little like this…or hopefully, a lot like this…

This is an example of what Rick Bayless can teach you.

And then put it all together.  A little goat cheese, a little salsa, some baby arugula, my errant peppers and onions and these glorious, glorious mushrooms.

Feast.

Adventures in Cheesemaking: Chèvre

Have I mentioned that my boyfriend got me the book Artisan Cheese Making at Home?  Or perhaps more accurately, my boyfriend bought himself the book Artisan Cheese Making at Home, wrapped it in Christmas paper, put my name on it and waited for me to take the bait.

That Machiavellian bastard.  His plan, it is working.

It all started with the recipe I posted on here earlier, for peperonata with DIY ricotta.  The peperonata was one thing–it was a good thing, I was actually just looking at this post and thinking we need to make this again, some time soon.  But making homemade cheese was a revelation to me; all I thought, as I ate beautiful, creamy, delicious cheese that I coaxed out of a pot full of hot milk and lemon juice, was, “Holy crap, I want to do this again!”

And so it has been done.  I am working my way slowly but surely through the book, and it’s written so cheesemakin’ newbies like me can start at the beginning with easy recipes and move forward to progressively more difficult cheeses.

I’ve worked my way up to goat cheese.  Chèvre, if you will.  Apparently, chèvre simply means “goat” in French, and the word has come

Meaningful, but utterly inedible.

to mean the entirety of goat cheeses.  If you want goat meat you should ask for chevon, not to be confused with Chevron, which is of course either a military insignia or a global petro-monster.  Either way, one shouldn’t eat a chevron.

It’s been a delicious journey, I wouldn’t want to ruin that.

But  this is the first time I’ve worked with anything that required more than a few hours’ attention and an actual starter culture  that I had to purchase from a cheese supply shop.  On the interwebs, since I don’t have one nearby (that I know about…anyone?  Anyone?  Anybody?).  Goat’s milk is pretty readily available at Ard’s and I’ve only checked into this on an extremely superficial level at this point, but I’ve heard tell there’s some goat dairies out in Mifflinburg, so I may have to get on the goat trail and girl-detective my way to figuring out what’s out there.  But anyway.

The thing about making cheese that’s kind of a bummer is, it’s viciously boring to photograph.  Even if it sounds vaguely exciting in a “livin’ on the edge” sort of way because the goat’s milk you bought…wait for it…is raw and needs to be pasteurized.  Girls, hold on to your boyfriends…

Ooh, look! It's pasteurizing like crazy!

That’s almost as exciting as it gets.  Ooh, look, the temperature is really accurate!  Oh, snap, the starter culture is rehydrating like nobody’s business, yo!

Of course, you could have to incubate your cheese.  Chèvre has to develop at a relatively low temperature for a relatively long time–between 72° and 78° for twelve hours (according to this cookbook; I have seen other recipes with different temps and incubation times, but I’m not cooking with them).  The author says that leaving the pot wrapped on the stove with the overhead light from the stove hood on should be sufficient for my purposes.  Great, right?  Only I don’t have a stove hood.  I have a rustic kitchen designed and built in 1935 and covered in knotty pine paneling.  It’s awesome, and I’m not cutting into a centimeter of it to put in a hood.  So what does a cheeseteuse do in these situations?  A cheeseteuse, dears, will improvise.

Talk, will you? Talk, I say!

(Dig my paneling.)

So there you have it.  There is my cheese incubator.  For TWELVE HOURS, that light shone on my pot of cheese, packed with goat’s milk and C20G powdered mesophilic starter.  Meso=middle and philic=friendly, so this is bacteria that thrives in mild temperatures; one could conceivably argue that I am also mesophilic, since I am also happiest when the temperature is somewhere between  72° and 78° and having lived through cold northeast winters and Texas summers, I can attest that this is entirely true.  Anyway.  At six this morning–after being woken up by the boyfriend, whose first words to me were, “Hey, don’t you have to check on the cheese?”–I unplugged my interrogation lamp, and unwrapped my pot, and pulled off the lid, and…

Curds!

Beautiful, glorious curds!  Look, looklook!  You can really see along the top of the pot how the curds have pulled away from the whey!  And they came out with the ultra-thick, yogurty texture they were supposed to have!  Oh, frabjous joy, oh happy day!

While the photos of the draining cheese promise to be nearly as exciting as the photos of pasteurizing milk, there was one more obstacle that had to be overcome–that of a cat who has taken to claiming the countertops as his own.

Sammy is relentless in his supervision of the household.

This recipe calls for the cheese to drain at room temperature for at least six and up to twelve hours.  I may indulgently joke about Sammy owning the house and everything in it but in all reality, the last thing I wanted was for the cat to stick his nose into my cheese, and there’s no way I could monitor the countertops for the entirety of the six-to-twelve-hour drain time.  And yet, it couldn’t go in the fridge.  And yet, I couldn’t just cover it because you want the air to circulate around it so it drains evenly and isn’t kept in an improperly humid environment.  I feel like I keep channeling my high school drama teacher, so with all due respect, Mrs. Horvath, I will say once again: Improvise!

Dat's right, kitty. Call me when you've got some thumbs.

Colander #1, meet colander #2.  Kitty, here is the pitard in which you are hoist.  Checkmate.

Once it’s drained–and you should check the bowl and make sure it’s actually draining and your cheese isn’t sitting in a reservoir of whey, and maybe even flip it once for even draining–then you scoop it into a dish with a cover and tuck in.  Tomorrow’s post will be all about what we ate this with, but for tonight, I will leave you with these…

Hello, beautiful.

Come here often?

Oh. I see you're here with someone.

To be continued…

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