I was on my third leg of back to back to back trips when I contemplated what skill I wanted to learn next. Somehow my beyond tired brain immediately thought back to a recent Mother Earth News issue – I was going to teach myself to make cheese!
What initially drew my interest was how easy the instructions looked. I had always thought you had to have rennet (which isn’t actually hard to get, but I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to have Amazon deliver it to my door); I was wrong. All I needed was milk, vinegar or lemon juice, and salt.
I was a bit surprised that whole milk still exists – I haven’t bought it in a couple decades – but it was easy enough to find. I already had lemon juice, slat and a candy thermometer (unused), so I was all set to start.
I set out to make paneer – a cheese used a lot in Indian cooking.
Step one of bringing milk up to 195 degrees seemed simple enough. Step two talked about extensive stirring, and step one didn’t, so I didn’t stir. Fortunately I realized it was sticking and didn’t disturb the burny bits so that yucky flavor didn’t transfer to the rest of the milk. I know about stirring for next time.
After I added the acid to the slightly cooled (190 degree) milk, it made curds, just like the instructions said it would. I let it rest the recommended amount of time.
The straining stage was next, and where I made my second error. As my longtime readers know, I’m frugal, and I like making due with substitutes.
Note to self: when making cheese, it is not the time to substitute thin tshirt material for cheese cloth, even if it works perfectly well for other things.
The natural holes in the tshirt fabric were not wide enough for the fluid to drain out. In addition, I’d cut the fabric too short to tie. I ended up losing a lot of my product in this messy comedy of errors.
After a quick Bed, Bath, and Beyond run, I had cheese cloth and things progressed better. Because the initial draining was not as intended, my cheese wouldn’t completely firm up. Fortunately, the recipe mentioned that stopping the process where mine ended up by accident meant that I’d have queso blanco instead of paneer. It was a softer, more crumbly texture, like a sticky feta.
I was able to shift gears and make Mexican food instead of Indian to showcase my creation.
Was this harder than it sounded? Kind of, mainly due to operator error. Would I try it again? Heck yeah, especially since I’ve started the learning curve (and have the cheese cloth)!
Have you ever tried learning a new skill to have it turn out not-as-expected? or Am I the only one who hadn’t heard of paneer before now?