I always thought of cheesemaking as something similar to making your own wine - you needed all sorts of ingredients, a long complicated process, and then months of aging. Well, it turns out you can make a simple cheese at home with only 3 common ingredients, in about 2 hours! This is probably the easiest cheese recipe you'll find!
Sometimes called "Farmer's Cheese", in South Asia it's known as Paneer, and is made simply by adding an acidic ingredient to hot milk in order to separate the curds from the whey.
This recipe will make about a pound and a half of cheese for around $3-$4, depending on the cost of milk in your area.
1 gallon whole milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
Salt to taste
Heat the milk to about 195 degrees in a non-aluminum pot.
Ideally you should use a thermometer, but if you don't have one, just heat it until the surface gets a lot of foam on it. Remove it from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.
Add the lemon juice, a little bit at a time, and stir. You probably won't need the entire 1/2 cup, so you don't want to add it all at once.
When the milk starts getting chunky (these are the curds forming), and the liquid gets more and more clear, you've added enough lemon juice. Let the curds sit in the pot for about 20 minutes.
Line a colander with a piece of cheesecloth, place it in the sink, and pour the mixture in. Once the majority of the liquid has drained off, you can place the colander inside a bowl (so you get your sink back) and let it drain for another 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, sprinkle on a bit of salt, stir, and get ready to press the cheese.
The finally step is to press the last remaining liquid out. Lift the cheesecloth out and form the cheese inside it into a ball, squeeze it a bit to drain some more liquid, then flatten it out into a disk about 1/2" thick. Open up the cheesecloth and re-wrap it so that the cloth is even over the top and bottom - if you leave any lumps or knots you won't have a nice smooth block of cheese when you press it. Place an upside-down plate on a baking sheet (to catch any of the last bits of liquid), place another plate on top, then place something heavy (like a piece of cast iron) on top of that. Let the cheese sit for about an hour. If you can press your finger into the surface and have no liquid come out, you're done!
You may notice some flecks of color in our cheese - these came from the milk starting to scorch on the bottom of the pot. You can avoid this by not stirring all the way to the bottom of the pot, or you could pick out the larger specks once the cheese is drained. We just left it in, it really doesn't affect the taste.
You can cover and refrigerate this cheese for up to a week. You could slice and eat it at this point, but it's pretty bland by itself; it's best used when it takes on the flavor of other ingredients in a dish. So, let's make a classic Indian dish!
Saag Paneer, also known as Palak Paneer, is a dish featuring cooked spinach, the paneer cheese, and traditional Indian spices. You'll need:
1 16 ounce package frozen spinach
12 ounces paneer cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 T minced ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano chili, finely chopped (keep the seeds in if you want HOT, otherwise remove them)
1 t turmeric
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 t ground coriander
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t garam masala
1 t salt
4 1/2 T olive oil
1/2 c - 1 c plain yogurt (regular yogurt will work better than Greek)
Mix the turmeric, cayenne, salt and 3 tablespoons of oil in a large bowl. Add the cheese cubes and gently toss them until they're completely coated. Be careful you don't crumble them! Set this mixture aside.
Use your food processor to puree the thawed spinach. You can puree it until it's the consistency of creamed spinach, or stop a bit before that for a more leafy mixture.
Put a large nonstick pan over medium heat, and add the paneer in a single layer (along with any of the remaining liquid). Check it after a few minutes, once it's browned slightly on the bottom flip them all over to brown the other side. Again, careful not to break them! Remove them from the pan and set them aside when they're done.
Add the other 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil to the pan, then add the onions, garlic, chili and ginger. Stir-fry everything for 10-15 minutes - you want it to be a nice golden-brown color. You can add a little water if it starts to dry out.
Next add the remainder of the dry spices and a little more water. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.
Stir in the spinach, a little more salt, and 1/2 cup of water, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the yogurt a little at a time. If you want a very creamy dish, use the full cup, otherwise use a bit less.
Carefully stir the cheese into the mixture (no breaking!), cover and simmer over low-medium heat for about 3-5 minutes just to warm everything back up. Paneer cheese won't melt, so you don't need to worry about getting it off the heat in time, but you don't actually need to cook it any further at this point.
Serve and enjoy! Let us know if you have any other interesting uses for this easy to make cheese!