Friday, May 28, 2010

Say "Cheese!"

No, I did not die of mushroom poisoning. I've been in the midst of a lot of trial-and-error involving my latest food project, cheese making.

I've been interested in learning how to make cheese for a while now. It started when I got a lot of powdered skim milk to use up from buying it in bulk.

Powdered milk is an excellent survival food, and comes in handy pretty often - just not often enough to use up about 12 gallons' worth. I'll be going into survival foods in a later entry - that will be a fun subject to experiment with.

Problem is, most of my previous efforts in cheese making resulted in some scorched-milk concoction not resembling anything edible.

Four or five gallons of wasted milk later, I can finally make a form of cheese that I will eat rather than tossing into the compost.

Paneer, sometimes spelled panir, is a simple Indian cheese that can be crumbled and eaten fresh, cooked like tofu (it holds its shape and takes on flavors just as easily), or preserved in a brine like feta. It doesn't require any rennet or aging, so it is perfect for a quick project that is vegetarian-friendly.

I used my paneer in lasagna, and a greek salad.

Here's how it's done.

Heat milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, very, very slowly. I used two quarts of reconstituted skim milk. The higher the milkfat percentage, the more dense and full-flavored your cheese will be. Skim is ideal if you want a more crumbly cheese, like feta. I say heat it slowly because if you scorch it, the taste will ruin your finished cheese. Start over a double-boiler if possible, graduating to a low flame after the milk reaches 100 degrees F. Once it hits 180, go back to the double boiler or reduce the flame to just keep it warm.

Pour in a 1/2 cup vinegar for every gallon of milk. Since I had two quarts, I used 1/4 cup. The milk will separate into curds and whey.

Separate the curds (the solid stuff) from the whey (the liquid stuff) by straining it through cheesecloth or a clean towel. It helps to dampen the cloth before pouring the mixture through so it will stick to the sides of the container you are using, and not fall in when you start to pour.

Reserve the whey if you don't want to be wasteful. It can be used in baking or for boiling pasta.

Hang the cloth with the cheese in it over a bowl (I prefer in the refrigerator, some leave it on their countertop, but that can be dangerous if you forget about it) for a few hours, then remove the ball of cheese and slice, dice, or crumble.

Here's my finished paneer, sliced.

I cured some in a brine (water, salt, vinegar, garlic and oregano) for salads, and used the rest as a layer for lasagna.

Another easy recipe is yogurt cheese, made by simply straining yogurt through clean cloth or a filter. It's like cream cheese, only healthier and sometimes cheaper. If you want to make cheese, but don't want to go through any cooking or measuring, that's a great one to start with.

Next up: Survival foods - foods that can be stored for emergency situations or foraged in the wild, including ways to obtain clean, drinkable water.