Turn homemade cheese into a sweet and decadent treat


A farmer friend gave me a box of spinach a few weeks ago. It wasn’t long until the novelty wore off. By then, I had added the dark green foliage to ramen, salads, omelets, sandwiches and anything else I could think of. I finally killed the box with a large batch of saag paneer, for which I steamed and pureed the remaining spinach and some mustard greens and cooked them with sauteed onions, garam masala and browned chunks of homemade cheese. When the spinach ran out, I kept making this fluffy, lemony cheese.

I feel like I’m only beginning to explore the possibilities of what I can do with this cheese. Alas, this exploration has been restricted by a certain step in the process. I just can’t seem to get off my tuffet and quit eating the curds and whey, and it’s cutting into my cheese output.

Making curds and whey is the first step in almost any cheesemaking process. You heat the milk and add some kind of acid that causes it to curdle. It’s similar to what happens if you add lemon and honey to a cup of tea with milk, but more palatable.

When you stir that acid — in my case, lemon juice — into that hot milk, what had been a homogeneous liquid quickly transforms into thick, nearly solid curds floating in a bath of clear, watery whey. Typically, the curds are filtered out and drained, which makes them denser. These curds are the foundation of most cheeses, while the whey has uses of its own.

A warm bowl of curds and whey isn’t as gross to eat as it may sound. It’s a bit sweet, thanks to the lactose; a little tart, thanks to the curdling agent; and slightly salty since I add salt with the acid. It’s a bit like eating cereal and milk because you have two different textures inhabiting the same bowl. You can sweeten it, of course, but you can also turn the meal in a more savory direction.

I filter the curds from the whey by pouring it all through a cheesecloth, with a pot below to catch the liquid. I then tie the corners of the cheesecloth around the wad of curds and hang it above the pot to capture the stream of draining whey.

You can try to get a second curdling from your whey. That’s how they make ricotta and other types of whey cheese. I’ve been doing something a bit more decadent: slowly cooking down the lemon-tinged whey until it develops into a smooth, brown caramel that’s similar in flavor to dulce de leche. I pour this lemony caramel sauce over pieces of drained cheese that I’ve fried to a golden hue, a process that somehow makes the cheese taste like the milk left over from a bowl of Fruit Loops. Together with the caramel sauce, it’s a soft, sweet and decadent little treat made from nothing but milk, lemon and salt. And it’s just one of the many whey cool things you can do with curds and whey.

Fried lemon cheese with dulce de leche sauce

The sauce is a fun touch, but it’s hardly necessary. It adds quite a bit to the cooking time. If you skip the sauce, your cheese will be ready within the hour.

Serves four

For the cheese

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 10 tablespoons lemon or lime
  • juice (or a blend)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or light
  • vegetable oil

In a thick-bottomed pot, heat the milk to a boil, stirring often to ensure nothing sticks. When it starts to foam, turn the heat off and wait 10 minutes.

When the milk has cooled a little, give it a stir to get it moving in a vortex and add the lemon and/or lime juice. The result should be immediate: The milk will break apart into cloud-like curds, suspended in the clear, watery whey. Let it cool for about 20 minutes, then pour it through a cheesecloth and into a pot to collect the whey.

Tie the corners of the cheesecloth and hang it somewhere where the drips can be caught. Carefully remove the cheese after at least two hours or as long as overnight.

To fry the cheese, carefully unwrap it from the cheesecloth and slice it into half-inch slabs or cubes. Fry them slowly in the oil on low/medium heat until browned on at least two sides.

You don’t have to fry it up. After all, not everyone appreciates the subtle taste of the milk left over from a bowl of Fruit Loops. You can spread the lemony cheese like whipped cream. You can sweeten it into a bright, rich dessert or mix it with chives, olive oil and salt for a savory alternative. As for the whey …

For the caramel sauce

  • The lemon whey from one gallon
  • of milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Add the sugar to the whey. On medium heat, simmer the whey until it cooks down to a thick, brown sauce, stirring occasionally to monitor any sticking. Amazingly, it doesn’t seem to want to stick.

As the volume gets close to zero, it will begin to foam, turning into more of a bubbling gas than a liquid. At this point, you can turn the heat off, and the foam will collapse back into a liquid with the look and thickness of caramel. Pour it over the cheese chunks or dip them into it.


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