Cheese commands greater respect from me because I’ve endured the ordeal necessary to make cheddar and other hard cheeses.
The instructions presume a cheesemaker whose day is unfettered by constraints. No work, family, pets, short attention span, or other real life obligations can interfere with the exacting process. And I mean exacting. Here’s one line from a typical cheddar recipe. “Raise the temperature two degrees every five minutes, cutting the curd into half-inch cubes in a slow continuous motion when the whey reaches 118 degrees.”
And then there’s aftercare. Cheddar must be pressed under increasing weights and aged at a temperature we can only achieve at my house by storing it in an attic-y closet for a few months in the winter. Needless to say, hard cheese is made infrequently around here. Too much real life going on like work, family, pets, and my tendency to behave badly.
So I make easy cheeses like mozzarella, farmer’s cheese, ricotta, yogurt cheese, and my favorite, queso blanco (also called paneer when made with lemon juice) . Well, my version is a bastardization of traditional queso blanco. Mine is firmer, easier to make, much less likely to ooze with whey. And I love to think of ways to serve it.
Queso blanco is a firm, non-melting, bland cheese. That probably doesn’t sound as appealing as provolone melting over a sandwich or a tender hunk of havarti. But it’s exactly these quality that make it so versatile. It can be rubbed with spices and oil for grilling. It can be cut in small pieces and pan fried with onions and peppers to serve over rice. It can be sliced, roasted, and topped with hot marinara sauce and Portobello mushrooms to eat with pasta or crusty bread. It can be threaded on skewers along with other kabob offerings, cut into cubes and floated in soup, marinated and breaded like a vegetarian cutlet. Throw chunks of it in curry, casseroles, creamed vegetables, anything with a flavorful sauce. Or live it up and deep fry it to serve with a dip or barbeque sauce.
Here it is pan friend in some coconut oil, served with green onions, avocado, and home made salsa. Yum.
If you want an exacting recipe I’m not the source. I’m more the subversive cook than the rule-bound cook. But don’t worry, this cheese is so easy that exact instructions aren’t required.
This is a great kitchen arts project to do with kids. It’s easy and offers a bit of cheesy magic as the whey separates from the curd.
But raw milk isn’t necessary. Any cow or goat milk will do. I tend to use skimmed (my version of skimmed is probably 1% or 2%) because we like cream in our coffee around here.
Queso Blanco (similar to Paneer)
Stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Turn off the heat.
Add vinegar (either white, cider vinegar, or rice vinegar). I use quite a bit more than most recipes require in order to make a firmer cheese. For a gallon of milk I use about 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup. Or you can glug some from the jar till you see the following reaction.
This is pretty interesting to watch. The vinegar forces casein and albuminous protein out. But it looks a little bit like magic. As you stir in the vinegar, the hot milk should rather quickly separate into curds and whey.
The whey looks almost greenish.
At this point you can let the whole pot sit and rest for 10 to 15 minutes, which lets the whey collect together in a happy protein meeting.
Traditionally the curds are gathered in cheesecloth and hung up to drain, a messy process. My version is much firmer so this step isn’t required. Simply drain the pot over a fine mesh colander. Let the colander drain for an hour or so, till the cheese is cool.
Then store it in the refrigerator. I keep it in a glass container. Someday I plan to add different seasonings to the milk (salt and cajun spices, for example) to create a cheese that’s flavored throughout. I haven’t gotten around to trying it yet because I use the whey. You might want to as well.
I soak grain in the whey for our chickens, a wonderful addition to their diets.
But there are plenty of other things to do with whey. Stored in your refrigerator it should last at least five days.
It makes baked goods extra fluffy. Use it instead of milk or buttermilk in breads, muffins, pancakes, and cakes. You’ll notice a difference. Use part whey along with water when you cook pasta, oatmeal, or rice. Feed it to dogs, chickens, and cats. Use it to marinate meat. Water your outdoor plants with it or dump it in your compost pile.
Let me know about your cheesemaking adventures!