You can make cheese at home! It’s easy and delicious. All you need is milk, salt and the other spices of your choice, and lemon or lime juice (vinegar works too). I have always used whole milk, cumin and coriander, and lemon juice (with a little vinegar if the lemon juice won’t curdle it properly), but you can vary these things. I usually make half a gallon of milk’s worth. If I made any more, it would be very hard to keep the milk from boiling over – milk foams up like crazy when you boil it. Which is the first step:
Pour all the milk into a pot that’s much bigger than you think you need. If the milk takes up more than half the volume of the pot, you’ll get into trouble. You might get into trouble if it takes up less than half the volume, too, but at least it won’t be inevitable. Add a small palmful of salt and generous sprinkles of your favorite spices, stir it up, and turn up the heat. Stir constantly, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot thoroughly as you do so, because milk burns easily and scorched milk will make your cheese taste funny.
The object of this part of the process is to get the milk to boil/simmer for a bare minimum of five minutes. This doesn’t necessarily have to be continuous. If your milk foams up, you will have to pick up the pot off the burner to get it to simmer down; this might get it to stop boiling temporarily. But make a note of how long it spends at a boil. When it’s been five minutes – maybe plus one for luck, if you’ve had to pick it up and put it down again very frequently – you can take it off the heat.
Next comes the curdling! Lemon juice is my acid of choice, but lime would work too, and in a pinch you can go with vinegar. Add it a little at a time and stir frequently until you see the milk solids separating from the liquid:
Now it’s time to strain. If you have a cheesecloth, another pot, and binder clips or a reasonable facsimile, you can copy my setup:
If you don’t have those things, an old, smooth cotton pillowcase works too (and comes conveniently in a bag shape). Basically, you need to arrange a way for liquid to pass through a cloth while the curds are caught. Cheesecloth is pretty cheap, and so are binder clips. Be sure to rinse your cloth thoroughly in cold water first to wash away any lingering flavors of detergent or your kitchen cupboard. You don’t want your cheese to taste like those things.
Ladle or pour your curds and whey onto your straining cloth:
Then, pick up the cloth, wring out as much whey as you can (careful – it’ll still be hot) – and put it between a few layers of paper towels, on a cookie sheet or something similarly washable with a lip, under a potful of water, to press out more liquid.
If you are the kind of person who (like me) likes to fuss over things, you can turn over the paneer and change the paper towels and poke it to test the consistency every half hour or so. If you’re not, just leave it alone for three to six hours depending on how moist you want your final product. When it’s done, gently unwrap the cheesecloth:
Eat it plain, put it in curry, crumble it over salad, chop it up for sandwiches, freeze chunks of it and dip them in batter and deep fry them, cut it into cubes and put toothpicks in them and serve them at a party with chutney. Mmmmm. Cheese. (It doesn’t melt well, so you can’t really make cheese sauce with it or use it to top a pizza.)
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