Blessed is This Cheesemaker

The title of this post was inevitable, even without being in the Life of Brian part of the Palin diaries.  

Strangely, I didn't Google much before deciding to make the paneer. If I had, I would've seen that everyone else has already made fresh cheese and done it better, with striking high-res black-background photos and witty narratives and stylish turns, like signing your name into the bottom of the cheese after pressing it into an authentic 19th-century cheese mold.

Luckily, I forgot about the internet and simply went with my birthday cookbook's recipe; no one else can take the cheesemaking journey for you, and it's really a trip worth booking. (And later, when you screw up, the Internet is there to fix it.)

The Recipe

(The cups are a casino gift. I like the little matching spoons that fit into the handle, but I'm not sure about the rest. I don't even like coffee.)

First, I bought some organic non-BGH (etc. etc.) milk, and I bought it at Albertson's (gasp!) because they were having an 8-hour sale. (Not on milk, but on Sprite, and we must have Sprite for the lemon, lime, and bitters - and we must have the LL&B.)

Maybe it's cheaper at Fresh & Easy, but no matter where you get it, buying "happy milk" probably kills the cost efficiency of making your own cheese. However, then you have "happy cheese." Except, I try not to think about store-bought or restaurant-wrought cheese too much (*cough* rennet *cough* factory farms), and therefore thinking about how wholesome and lovely homemade cheese is just a path to confronting the greyer areas of your lifestyle, and I don't often want to do that.

I poured the milk into a saucepan.

Cold Milk Bubbles

I like the way milk makes such sloshy bubbles. Did I ever tell you about the soda-pop bubble that came out of my nose one time, at the KMart cafeteria? I'm sure I did.

There are several ways to make what is really just "fresh cheese" (and not particularly Indian), and next time I will change a few things, but this is how I did it today. I heated the milk to "just about boiling" then and added several tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. I forget how much. Pretty much a lemon's worth.

Some Lemon

I thought that photo was going to come out all arty, but it didn't. Nor did the 20 others I took.

The milk was then removed from heat to curdle up. Curdle, curdle. Fifteen minutes passed. It didn't look very curdly, so I let it sit another 15 or 30 more. (This is the trouble with blogging two weeks after the fact.)

I laid the cheesecloth over a bowl

Cheesecloth Ready

and poured the mixture through it. Later, like two minutes later, I would reread the recipe and realize that I was supposed to fold the cheesecloth so it was 3-ply. You know, so the curds and whey wouldn't just run through it.

A Lot of Whey, Not So Much Curds

Okay, whatever. Next time. I lifted up the cloth and examined my curds. Then I wrapped and squeezed them. Squeeze, squeeze. Then I hung them up to dry a bit. Then I squeezed a bit more.

Cheese, Squelched

Mike and I each tried some of the result. MMMMmmmm! Pretty delicious. If you like "lemon cheese." Which, apparently, we do. (But I can see why other acids, like vinegar, are also popular. Next time I'll make it with lime, for more bite.)

Now to press out the extra moisture.

The Pressing

That's instant cocoa mix and blue corn meal, for weight. The problem with the canisters, another casino gift but one I really love, is that I start thinking of them as decor and forget they have food in them. I have remembered the cocoa a few times, but, hello? Chocolate. I have yet to ever remember the blue corn meal. I actually make decent cornbread, so I don't know what my problem is. I do know that I can't ever go into therapy, though, because I would spend a lot of money on trying to figure out why I don't make more cornbread. For someone who supposedly (other people's words) wants to keep some "intrigue" about her (other people who don't read this blog, clearly), I sure don't like any question marks hanging over my thought processes.

Awhile later, and I don't know how long and it doesn't matter because I wasn't exactly doing all of this correctly, this emerged:

Ready to Go

Again, yummy! I threw it into the pan with some mustard seeds, cumin, onion, and olive oil, wrapped it in naan, and gobbled it all up for dinner. Four stars!

Here's where it gets weird. So, back when the milk didn't seem to be curdling, I finally checked the internet. After grimacing through all of the sound advice I should've followed, I saw a comment where someone said she uses all of her leftover whey to make ricotta.

Cool! All of this uncurdled milk wouldn't go to waste! Awesome, blossom. (That's my new hip, drawling phrase I use with the kids. They do their own grimacing here.) Ricotta is just cheese made from leftover whey - who knew?

So, I looked up a recipe for ricotta and learned that I should set the whey aside at room temperature, covered, for 12-24 hours. Okay.

Meanwhile, Mike made a pizza using one of those excellent Fresh & Easy fresh pizza dough balls ($1.08 - a steal).

First, though, a game of Knifey-Nosey:

Knifey-Nosey

And doesn't he look like a drunk uncle here?

Like a Drunk Uncle

A gay drunk uncle?

Not Gay, Just Blurry

In any case, he said it was his best pizza creation to date.

Delicious Pizza

I forget what was on it. Mike said yesterday that he was thinking about blogging. (I'm not sure if his ten posts from a few years ago count.) Well, finally. We'll see. If he does, he can talk all about his pizza ideas. (And his politics - you are warned.)

All polished off with a tasty and nutritious can of soda, of course.

I Can Has Soda

(Look, look! You can see the Palin in the background!)

Here's the pizza again, in glorious repose.

The Work and the Creator

As I spot-coloured, I thought about how sad it is that this pizza was the most colourful thing in the house. Brown shirts, tan draperies, olive sofa... I really want to add colour, I really do want more greens/purples/blues, but once you commit... I hope reading Apartment Therapy helps.

Night came and went, and the next day I went to my covered whey to check its progress.

Full of curds! I carefully ladled out the curds, per the directions.

Then I got impatient and just dumped the rest of the whey into the cheesecloth. (The re-used cheesecloth - I've since read that this is a matter of controversy.) Here you see the ladled product at right, and the dumped product at left.

The Two Ways to Strain Ricotta

Squish, squish, squish, and I was hanging up the squozen curds again, just like yesterday. Cheesemaking is so easy! Even if you have a cold!

The Nastiest Cold/Virus Ever (raise your hand if you haven't had it yet this year) seemed to be fighting back (again), and that's when I remembered the Chinese hot Coke and ginger remedy.

I'd never tried it before, but I read about it earlier this year and it sounded interesting. However, it also sounded like you'd want real Coca-Cola, made with sugar. But hey, look at us with our larder of kosher-for-Passover Coke. Good timing!

I heated the Coke in a saucepan while cutting up about three inches of ginger. I didn't cut it very fine because I'm not good at that, but chunks ended up working just as well. When the Coke got quite hot, I added the ginger, turned down the heat for a minute, then poured it all into my cup. Mike, meanwhile, made a bunch of faces that ranged from "skeptical" to "ew" to "oh, how can you waste such good Coke?!"

I sat, closed my eyes, and drank.

And drank and drank.

Hot (Real) Coca Cola and Ginger

Yeah!

It was very tasty, and I did feel noticeably better. Noticeably buzzed, too, so I had to pay the price of the caffeine hangover later, but still. Ginger and cola belong together.

I was so giddy that I took a picture of my 10th grade French textbook, finally acquired a few months ago.

Je Parle Francais

It's not the much-coveted ninth grade edition, but I was surprised by how much came zinging right back. How could I ever forget Genevieve and her cousin and their shopping trip? And Robert and Nicole?

Unfortunately, the ancient Chinese secrets didn't pep me up enough to take photos of the miniskirted dramas inside. Sorry. Besides, it was time to check the cheese.

Hung Out to Dry

Yeah, except there's one problem. After hanging the new curds, I went back to Google. I reread the comment that inspired the ricotta. And I found out that you can't make ricotta from acid-based fresh cheese whey. It has to be made from rennet-style cheeses. Supposedly, fresh cheese whey doesn't have any curds left to make. It's that way by design.

Um. So what did I make?

I don't know. I guess I didn't curdle the milk enough the first time, so what I really did was make "next day paneer." Or something like that. I was no longer so sure that it was okay to be eating food made from milk that had sat out for 24 hours.

But what the heck, I have lots of sick leave. And when I called Mike over to see it (before it was hung up, before we knew better), we couldn't stop smelling it. It was so fresh! And, nibble-nibble, tasty!

The fully drained product was just as good. I had a small bite, smiled with prairie apron satisfaction, and wrapped the cheese in its breathable cheesecloth and placed it in the fridge. "I'll probably use you tomorrow, in a nice lasagna," I told it.

Fate had other plans. By the time I felt like cooking (the next weekend), our little faux-cotta had become a little white rock. Sniff. We'll always have that time I stood over the sink, licking my curdy fingers.

Then I went to the store and bought an enormous brick of panela for five bucks and no effort. Baaaa. (A sound to go with the sheepish look.)

18 April 2008 |



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