Thursday, April 5, 2012

Urban Farm Handbook Challenge - (not) paneer

I'm such a wannabe farmer it's disgusting. In between my full time job and driving kids to ballet, piano, art classes, etc. in my SUV, I imagine the different combinations of jams I will can this summer, consider the eternal question - how can I make my garden bigger, and ponder the feasibility of raising chickens in my backyard. This is why when I stumbled upon the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge (book and blog) the other day, I scrambled to figure out what I would put together for the March Home Dairy Challenge.

I figured I would try to make paneer, since I've heard it's ridiculously easy. The cubes above are attractive enough, but this first experiment with cheese-making was not terribly successful. Here's what DID go well:

Above - the whole milk is at a rolling boil. The lemon juice was added and the milk began to curdle. Below - it was all strained through a cheesecloth over a colander in a bowl. I did drink some of the whey, and it was not unpleasant. I actually drank a lot because every time I made someone try it, he/she said, "You drink it first". So I got more than my fair share of tastes. After the whey has been stained through, I folded the cheesecloth over, put a small plate on top, and weighed it down with my heavy cast iron risotto pot. The whole operation sat for about 2 hours, and then the cheese went into the fridge for an hour.

Here's what needs to be improved for next time:
  • The cheese was not firm enough. When I added it to my tikka masala sauce, it basically fell apart. I think my paneer recipe was basically the lemon cheese recipe I saw on a link on the Sustainable Eats blog. Next time, I will try a different paneer recipe and use today's recipe to make a softer herbed cheese. I can tell that would be incredible - tart and creamy.
  • I need to figure out how to make this lactose-free. One of the consequences of aging is that dairy is now my nemesis, and though I dare my body way too frequently by having dairy, my favorite magazine Experience Life keeps telling me that eating things my body does not tolerate increases inflammation, which leads to some sort of bad thing that has to do with insulin, which ultimately leads to weight gain.
  • I need to make my own sauce because the jarred tikka masala sucked. OK, I do see the irony here - making my own cheese like an urban farmer just to buy a jarred sauce like an urban schmuck. Not too farmer like. However, I do have a good excuse this time. My sister has just gone into labor with her second child and I'm in a rush to post this, pack, and get down to North Carolina!!!
Here are the other Urban Farm Handbook challenges that I'm looking forward to: April/Gardening, May/Foraging, June/Botanicals, July/Seed Saving and Winter Gardening, August/Preserving, September/Bartering, October/Protein, November/Grains, December/Handcrafted Holidays.

And in the meanwhile, I'll be eager to read posts from other participants on the Sustainable Eats blog, and will also be hosting my own weekly Garden to Table Challenge which begins April 9th. I'll be announcing the first giveaway then. Check it out!


  1. This is really cool. From the pictures I thought it was tofu (which I tried and failed miserably). Could you use Lactaid to make it lactose free? How was the taste of the cheese?

  2. I have never had Paneer but I keep hering about it. I think I need to give it a try.

  3. Looks like a fun experiment! I will link my recent post for your upcoming GTTC. I got the date wrong. Thougt you will do it on Saturday.

  4. About lactose - try using goat's milk when you make your cheese, raw if you can find it. It works the same as cow's milk, but raw goat's milk is easier for most folks to digest than anything else. It's worth a shot, and it's great for you if it works out.
    Your cheese sounds nearly the same as my farmer's cheese, only I use apple cider vinegar to make it. Try sprinkling in a bunch of Mrs. Dash in your fave flavor before pressing it. It's fabulous on crackers!
    Loving the idea of you getting chickens. It can totally work, and they are a blast. Before you know it, you'll be daydreaming about having a little place in the country with acreage and your own livestock. :-)


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