On The Kitchen Workshop, Mary Reilly, Edible Pioneer Valley publisher and editor in chief, sat down with David Asher. David runs the Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking in British Columbia. He follows traditional and natural methods of cheesemaking and doesn’t rely on the freeze-dried cheese cultures that make up so much of today’s cheesemaking. Mary and David talked about cheesemaking methods, rennet types (During they veer off into a detailed discussion of rennet production and GMO rennet. For more information on GMO-produced rennets, read Changing Times for Wisconsin Cheesemakers from Edible Milwaukee.)
Listen to learn how David makes paneer and chevre at home. Recipes for both are below. These recipes have been adapted from David Asher’s The Art of Natural Cheesemaking (July 2015) and are printed with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.
I learned how to make paneer at a gurdwara (a Sikh temple). The original community kitchens, gurd- waras open up their temples to the public and serve free vegetarian meals known as langar to anyone, regardless of gender, creed, or need, almost any day of the week. At the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the most holy Sikh temple, tens of thousands of pilgrims are served wholesome meals every single day.
If you haven’t been to a gurdwara for a meal, I highly recommend it. It’s an important cultural experience, and an excellent way to get to know your neighbors and enjoy a meal with folks off the street. If you don’t want to accept a free meal, the temples will gladly accept donations, or your help in the kitchen.
Gurdwaras make phenomenal homemade Punjabi food, often featuring homemade paneer. When I learned that this temple I visited made its own cheese, I asked the community if I could volunteer in the kitchen and see how it was made. Expert cheesemakers, the Punjabis in the kitchen were very instructive and happy to share their skills. I later learned that many Punjabi households make their own paneer, even after immigrating to North America (you’ve probably seen them buying gallons and gallons of milk at the supermarket and wondered how they were going to drink it all). They should be an example for us all!
This is an adaptation of the gurdwara’s recipe, scaled down from the 25 or so gallons (100 L) of milk that they transformed into cheese in their kitchen! The 25 gallons of milk produced about 25 pounds (10 kg) of cheese, and all that warm cheese, sitting in the strainer, pressed itself firm. When making this recipe at home, you’ll probably not be making as much, and you’ll need to set up a cheese press to press your paneer firm.
Queso fresco, literally “fresh cheese” in Spanish, is a similarly made heat-acid cheese that’s commonly consumed across Mexico and Latin America. Essentially paneer made on a different continent, the recipe for queso fresco is virtually identical to its Indian cousin.
1 gallon (4 L) milk—and almost any milk will do!
1⁄2 cup (120 mL) vinegar (or 1 cup [240 mL] lemon juice, or 1⁄2 gallon [2 L] yogurt or kefir)
1 tablespoon (15 mL) salt (optional)
2-gallon (8-L) capacity heavy-bottomed pot
Medium-sized wire strainer
Homemade cheese press—two matching yogurt containers, one with holes punched through from the inside with a skewer
Makes about 1 1⁄2 pounds (700 g) cheese
Bring the milk to a boil over medium-high heat.
Be sure to stir the pot nonstop as the milk warms to prevent its scorching on the bottom; the more time you spend stirring, the less time you’ll spend scouring! As well, stirring promotes presence of mind and keeps you focused on the milk, which may boil over if forgotten.
Let the milk rest by cooling it in its pot for a minute or two. Letting the milk settle will slow its movement and help ensure good curd formation.
Pour in the vinegar or lemon juice, and gently stir the pot once or twice to ensure an even mixing of the acid. Do not overstir; the paneer curds are sensitive when they’re fresh and can break apart if overhandled. Watch as the curds separate from the whey . . .
Let the curds settle for 5 minutes. As they cool, the curds will continue to come together. As they become firm, they will be more easily strained from the pot.
Carefully strain the curds: With a wire-mesh strainer, scoop out the curds from the pot, and place them to drain in a colander resting atop a bowl that will catch the warm whey. Pouring the whole pot through the colander is not recom- mended, as the violent mixing that results can make it difficult for the cheese to drain.
Add spices or salt (optional). If you wish to flavor your paneer or queso fresco, consider adding various herbs or spices to the curds before they are pressed. Now is also the best time to add salt.
Press the curds (optional): Transfer the paneer curds from the colander into a form while they are still warm, and place the cheese-filled form atop a draining rack. Fill up the follower with hot whey, and place atop the form to press the curds firm. The paneer is ready as soon as the curd has cooled. It can be taken out of the form and used right away, or refrigerated in a covered container for up to 1 week. Paneer, unlike other cheeses, can also be frozen.
The cultural circumstances within which chèvre evolved make the production of this cheese ideally suited to our modern times. With the many distractions and diversions in our lives, it is often difficult to find dedicated time for cheesemaking; chèvre’s simplicity helps it find a place in our daily rhythms.
Cows’ milk can be used in this recipe in place of goats’ milk: the soft and creamy curd that results is firmer than yogurt cheese and is sometimes called cream cheese, fromage frais, or Neufchâtel, though that final name is an American bastardization of a very different bloomy-rinded French cheese. The long fermentation of the cows’ milk allows its cream to rise, creating a beautiful layer of creamy curd atop the whiter curd below.
Chèvre is excellent on its own but also serves as a delicious canvas for adding many other herbs, spices, and flavors. Roasted or raw garlic, cracked pepper, preserved lemons, even fruit preserves all pair well with chèvre. But be sure to add them at the end of the cheesemaking process, when the cheese is salted and drained; if the flavorings are added too soon, their flavor will flow away with the whey.
Chèvre is generally eaten fresh in North America, so it is a little-known fact that it can also be aged! Chèvre is the foundation of an entire class of aged cheeses that start as this fresh cheese.
1 gallon (4 L) good goats’ milk
1⁄4 cup (60 mL) kefir or active whey
1⁄4 dose rennet (I use less than 1⁄16 tablet WalcoRen calf’s rennet for 1 gallon milk)
1 tablespoon (15 mL) good salt
1-gallon (4-L) capacity heavy-bottomed pot
Du-rag or other good cheesecloth
30 minutes to make; 2 days total
Makes about 11⁄2 pounds (700 g) chèvre
Warm the goats’ milk to around 90°F (32°C) on a low heat, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching.
Stir in a cheesemaking starter culture: Pour in the kefir or whey and mix it in thoroughly.
Stir in a small amount of rennet: Dissolve the quarter dose of rennet in 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) cold water. Mix it into the warm milk gently
Leave at room temperature, covered, for 24 hours. After the long fermentation period, the curd will shrink and sink to the bottom of the pot.
Ladle the curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander perched over a bowl to catch the whey. Tie the cheesecloth into a bag, and simply leave it in the colander to drain.
Drain for at least 6 hours, at room temperature. Cover with a clean towel if need be to keep flies from landing on it. Be sure that the curds are well suspended above the level of the whey.
Salt the curds: Open up the cheesecloth bag and sprinkle 1 tablespoon (15 mL) salt over the surface of the cheese. With a wooden spoon, mix the salt into the cheese thoroughly.
Tie up the cheesecloth bag, and let the salted curds drain for another hour or two. Once the cheese feels quite dry, it’s ready to eat, or have herbs or spices added to it.
Keep chèvre in the refrigerator if you don’t eat it right away. It will keep for at least 2 weeks.