Lent this year was an eventful experience. Cheese is one of my favourite foods (I view it as more of a condiment than a treat; it goes well in large quantities…on anything) and in a fit of madness I decided that this year I would I gave up dairy products. I spent the next 6 weeks discovering the delights of soya milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, soya yoghurt and spread and even attempted “Cheezly”, which despite its promising name is a kind of solid pasty soy product, textured like what happens when you use flour to make glue, and flavoured uninspiringly like Quavers. In much the same way as “strawberry-flavoured” anything tastes nothing like a strawberry this was “cheese-flavoured” flavour, and very disappointing. Tea Stew gave up sweets and biscuits for almost 2 weeks before realising to his extreme dismay that he had accidentally eaten both on one day.
So, Easter Sunday arrived and I wanted cheese. In the Good Life spirit we thought we’d make some. Paneer, a kind of Indian curd cheese, is not only extremely simple to make but is a key ingredient in one of our favourite meals, palak paneer – a mild Indian curried spinach dish (see photo below). 4 litres of milk went into a pan, and were heated to 93 degrees. The brown (it was designed for chocolate making) spatula you see in my hand is both a spatula and a thermometer, a spatulamometer if you will. At 93 degrees the cheese proteins have started to go a bit loopy, and you simply add salt to taste and 110ml of lemon juice, and watch the curds separate from the whey while you stir. Then ladle those curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander, fold the cloth over and set something heavy on top (a bowl filled with water will do). Leave for 1-3 hours and you have made a cheese.
The result is a very mild, cottage-like cheese. It can be used crumbled on salads or dipped in cornflour and fried as we did to make sag or palak paneer. Our favourite recipe and the one we used in the picture is by the Hairy Bikers and can be found on their website here: http://www.hairybikers.com/recipes/crunchy-palak-paneer/1076
We found the recipe quantities given above made a cheese of which half was enough for a large portion each. We therefore froze the other half for a treat later. Overall the process was easy and fun and made something thoroughly enjoyable to eat. As a first experience of cheesemaking it was therefore extremely positive and I look forward to attempting a different type in the near future.