I’m fighting putting “Easy Cheese!” up for a title- must… resist… the…. power…. So anyway- I’ve gotten some requests for how to make cheese. Now, I can’t make anything fancy, or, alas, with blue veins (don’t think I haven’t thought about it) but I do know how to make Indian paneer cheese, cream cheese, and ricotta- which is so much better than the stuff in the tub, you will never buy it again. And, it’s EASY! Whew. Got that out of my system. So today it’s paneer, and ricotta. I am not as cool as you thought- it’s the same cheese, just one is pressed, one is loose.
As Ree says, here is the cast of characters. You’ll need a gallon of fresh WHOLE milk, fresh lemon juice, salt, a colander, a large non-aluminum pot (I switch from my enamel pot to stainless in this process today- enamel was too small) a thermometer, cheesecloth or a stand-in for cheese cloth, wooden or stainless spoons and a little bit of time.
Two things: You don’t need “cheesecloth”- I usually use a cotton flour-sack towel. Paper towels will even work in a pinch. A large coffee filter will work- anything that will hold the curds, and allow the whey to release. You do need a colander though, sorry. No stand ins for that. Nor the thermometer. The other thing is this: I have junket rennet tablets shown, but you don’t need them. They’re back-up- like adding a yeast packet to your sourdough start- it’ll work on it’s own, but the yeast(junket) is insurance.
While I don’t object necessarily to the little plastic lemon squeezie juice thingy, when making cheese you need the real deal. Don’t know why, but the sqeezie lemon just doesn’t cut it. Skip it.
Get the freshest milk you can find. If you have a local creamery, now is the time to make friends with them- ( if you have a creamery and are not already friends with them, we cannot be friends). If you have a cow, I am totally jealous and hate you.
Squeeze your lemons for 1/3 cup fresh juice. Use a sieve of some sort to catch the pulp and pips- we’re making cheese here, not… gross curdled milk lemon bits. Or something. You won’t taste “lemon” in the cheese- it just acts as an acid to separate things anyway- like a good divorce lawyer? No? OK, nevermind…
Pour the entire gallon of whole milk into your pot. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, and turn the burner on to medium-high. No need to stir, but you can if you want. Watch your thermometer, until the temp gets to 185 degrees. You don’t need a fancy thermometer either- like my bull clip for holding it to the rim of my pot? Office Depot, baby. 12 for a $1.
When it gets to 185 degrees, remove from heat and add your 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, briefly stirring, then walk away- do not disturb if for the FULL five minutes. Thus:
Forgive my hideous thumb. I have man-hands, what can I say? I’ve learned to love them over the years, and man, can they make some cool stuff. Moving on…
After five minutes, with the lemon juice, soft curds will be forming. If it’s not separating into distinct curds, add 1 Tablespoon additional lemon juice, and wait again. You may have to do this a few times. The fresher the milk, the less lemon you need. See? Befriend your creamery! Or a cow.
I added 2 additional Tbsp of lemon to this pot, then, with a slotted spoon or spider, gently lift the curds from the whey (and you always wondered what that meant- the Muffetts were friends with their creamery) into your cheesecloth lined collander, suspended over a bowl, to catch the whey.
See how this whey looks like non-fat milk now? More on that later… Once the curds are all lifted from the pot, pour the reserved whey back in the pot. You have a decision to make: You can use this as is, as a stand in for ricotta- and it’s fabulous. It’s not real ricotta, (ricotta means ‘re-cooked’) or you can press it and turn it into paneer. That’s what I’m doing here. Cover the curds lightly by wrapping the cheesecloth (or towel) over the top, and pressing with a heavy weight- I know just what to use!
Let this sit, weighted and wrapped in the cheesecloth, in the fridge overnight. Now, returning to your pot of whey. It has probably substantially cooled by now- but that’s OK, because we are going to make ricotta. Add one junket rennet tablet, dissolved in a bit of the whey, to the pot. (you can use another dose of lemon juice- but it may not work as well) Put the pot back on the heat, and bring to 200 degrees. When it reaches temp, remove from flame and DO NOT TOUCH IT. Let it sit on the counter, or the stove away from the heat, for about 10 minutes.
When you return, voila! Ricotta! Use your spider to gently lift the curds into a wire strainer so the whey can drain. Notice the color of the whey? Pale and thin- it’s given up its all to make cheesy goodness. (Whey is still a powerhouse of protein- most body-builder protein bars or powders have dehydrated whey protein in them- it’s this stuff)
What looks like lemonade is really whey. Don’t drink it- I mean, I guess you could if you wanted to- but just don’t. “Palatable” and “whey” are not friends. Let the ricotta sit in the colander overnight in the fridge. Use it as you would any ricotta- in lasagna, calzones, deserts, on pizza- whatever. It’s delicious.
Once your disk of pressed cheese has been sitting overnight, you can cut it into chunks and use it in any curry or Indian food- I love me some Saag Paneer, which is spicy spinach and cheese. Maybe for my next recipe? Go forth and make!
p.s. I recommend this recipe, for artichoke ricotta calzones from my friend Michelle, in Alaska. Mmmmmmm….