OK, ask and ye shall receive.
Soft cheese is a whole lot less involved than hard cheese, at least until you cast your eyes on something like Brie. But there is a whole repertoire of soft cheeses that are simple to make and fabulous to eat. One of my favorites is “panir” (or “paneer”), which is East Indian in origin. I learned about this one years ago in a cooking class taught by the Hare Krishna folks. It was a great class, and I’ve used many of those recipes for years.
That class taught us to heat milk to just below the boiling point (you can tell when it’s ready; look for the little bubbles around the edge of the pan). Add a tablespoon of lemon juice (or vinegar, or whey from an earlier batch) at a time until the curds and whey separate from each other. When you’ve done this a few times, you can just start pouring the coagulant from the bottle. You’ll know when to quit.
Whey is a yellow-ish or green-ish liquid that is left when the milk solids (curds) separate. Stir the milk as you add the coagulant; when the right amount has been added the milk will suddenly separate into curds and whey. Place a colander lined with cheese cloth over a large bowl (or another pan), and pour the curds and whey into the lined colander. Save the whey for soup stock, future cheese-making efforts, bread-making (substitute for the liquid), or even for your next batch of refried beans (another time, another blog)—be creative. It’s even good to drink, and is loaded with good things, especially if you began with raw milk.
Gather up the sides of the cheesecloth to make a bundle of the curds, and hang this over a bowl to drain more whey from the curds. The longer it hangs, the firmer the cheese. Panir can be cut into cubes and pan-fried for a great addition to vegetables such as cooked greens. Herbs can be added, and the cheese can be “kneaded” until it is velvety, making a fine spreading cheese.
For all you folks out there who want to stick your toe into the cheese-making water, panir is the way to go. Once the cheese bug bites, though, you’ll probably want to get a good book and launch into more complex cheeses from there. I do hope you find this as much fun—and as rewarding and delicious—as we do!