Let’s be honest: cheese is delicious. It’s creamy, saltiness can go with almost any dish, sweet or savory. Today’s dairy and food processing industries have, unfortunately, made most cheese available in stores unfit for regular consumption. The antibiotics and pesticide residues in dairy cattle feed is fat soluble, meaning it is concentrated in food products that contain high percentages of milkfat – including cheeses. Artificially colored, preserved, and packaged to boot, these “cheese products” are hardly what cheese is meant to be. Lucky for us, two economically simple solutions exist: homemade ricotta and paneer (a mild, solid Indian cheese).
For the recipes below, you can use either goat’s milk or cow’s milk, as long as it is unhomogenized. If the milk has been homogenized, it will not separate readily into the curds and whey, which is what has to happen if you’re going to make cheese. As always, I strongly recommend you find a local milk source that allows their cows to munch on grass rather than antibiotics or artificial hormones. I have made these recipes both from milking goats at Homestead Ranch and from the cow’s milk available from Iwig Dairy.
HOMEMADE RICOTTA AND PANEER
1 gallon whole milk
1/3 c. vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter (optional)
candy thermometer (optional, but recommended)
cheesecloth or fine grained tea cloth (for straining)
Pour the milk in a pot and stir in 1/4 tsp. salt. Warm gently, over medium heat, until the milk is just about to boil (between 185 – 195 degrees F on a candy thermometer), the milk will begin forming bubbles and a foamy top. Remove the milk from the heat, and immediately add the vinegar (I like to add it one tablespoon at a time, until the curds begin to visibly separate). Add the remainder of the salt, stir briefly, and then allow to sit for at least ten minutes up to several hours covered with a clean cloth, giving the curds enough time to pull out of the whey. The curds will gather, leaving a clearish liquid (the whey), the longer it is allowed to sit the more curds you will get, although the process can be done in a rush and still return a good result. Ladle or pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander. (I set the colander over a bowl and catch the whey, which is great for adding to soaking beans, grains, or for various fermentation projects!)
Ricotta: Let it drain for a few minutes or up to an hour, depending on how dry or creamy you would like your cheese to be. It is also optional to stir in a couple tablespoons of melted butter to make a richer end product, especially if using fresh goat’s milk.
Paneer: Let it drain for several minutes, until the visible liquid is gone. Wrap
the cheese up in the cheesecloth, and press it into an oval shape. Place the cheese onto a rimmed plate, and weigh it down to press out the remaining moisture, for twenty to thirty minutes. (I place another small plate on top of the cheese with a couple cans of beans on top to evenly distribute the weight across the cheese’s surface). Remove the cheese from the cloth, and cut into 1/2 – 1″ squares, which may be eaten as they are or fried until golden (that’s right – fried cheese…yummy!).