I’ve only ever made fresh cheeses, but I find it very, very satisfying to do so. I find working with milk very satisfying generally speaking. I feel like I am a woman of the old world/old country. I feel like I’m keeping alive an art-form that is slowly being squashed by big business, and their tasteless, waxy products. I think this is why I could never be vegan- I enjoy working with milk too much.
Anyway, I really enjoy making cheese. The first one I learned to make was paneer (East-Indian farmers/cottage cheese), which I believe is very similar/the same as Spanish/Mexican queso blanca. I learned to make paneer the same way I learned how to make every other Indian food I know- by watching my mother. A cheese I learned to make more recently is tvorog- a Russian quark-like cheese that is used a lot in East-European baking. I discovered how to make tvorog quite accidentally. It came out of a yogourt-making misadventure that turned into awesome.
I had made yogourt for the first time, and I wasn’t able to ask my mother if I was doing things right- she was away in India at the time. But, I had seen her doing it every week since I was a very young child, and I was confident I could manage. The yogourt from this first attempt was very, very runny (I think the milk was too cold by the time I added the culture). I couldn’t use it like yogourt, but I couldn’t drink it like milk either, as it had gone sour. I was really disappointed in this failed yogourt-making attempt, and I really did not want to waste it, so I decided to make some Kadhi, which is a bright yellow East-Indian curry made from sour yogourt and besan (black chickpea flour). I poured the runny yogourt-like substance into a pot, put the pot over a low heat, and then started rummaging through the cupboards looking for the besan. When I finally came back to the stove, the “yogourt” had separated into curds and whey. Huh. I definitely wasn’t expecting that to happen.
So I separated the curds from the whey, and decided to use the whey to make the kadhi I had planned. I looked at the curds, and figured I had accidentally made some paneer. I decided to make some mattar paneer (peas and cheese) curry for lunch, but when I tasted the curds, I realized it was not paneer at all. What it reminded me of was sirok– a Russian, chocolate covered sweet cheese treat. Kinda like chocolate covered cheesecake bites, but better. I was pretty sure that if I sweetened the cheese, coated it in chocolate, and froze it, I would have sirok.
I was pretty damn excited and very proud of myself to have made such a discovery. I didn’t make sirok, and instead used the cheese as I would’ve cream cheese- on toast with jam, herbed with bagles, etc. It was delicious. I also remembered a time my Russian friend had me over for tea, and served me tvorog mixed with sugar and sour cream, on bread. I did that with my tvorog accident, and indeed it was good.
To make your own you will need:
2 litres yogourt (make your own with full-fat milk from a pastured cow, if possible. The milk is of higher quality, better for you, and the cow you got the milk from is happier!)
Pour into a non-reactive pot, and put over very low heat. Let it sit on the stove for maybe ½ hour or until the curds separate from the whey. Don’t stir. Once you have curds and whey, let them cool, then pour through a colander lined with several (5-6) thicknesses of cheesecloth. Don’t throw out the liquid! It’s great for use in biscuits or cornbread. It freezes well if you don’t have the time to work with it right away.
Let the curds drain well- and voila! Like I said before- this is a great substititute for cream cheese- it’s got far more flavour, and you know exactly what you are eating! It would be a great filling for danishes and turnovers as well.
My mother (who I am currently living with) makes fresh yogourt weekly from milk she buys from a local dairy farmer. I think I will ask her to buy an extra couple of litres so I can make some tvorog. Mmmmm.