Oh, You Best Step Off My Tuffett…

“Hey Jen, it’s Nat. Farnsworth and I might grab a drink later. Want to join us?”
“Can’t. I’m making cheese tonight.”
“Okay, I’m assuming that’s a euphemism, but I’m not sure I really want to know.”
I then explained that by “making cheese,” I meant that I was, in fact, making cheese. The kind you eat. So I suppose that “making cheese” could be a euphemism. A euphemism for “changing the course of my entire life and finally realizing why I was put on this earth.”
I just never knew. I never knew that a regular urbanite like me could actually create food from other food. I made cheese with nothing more than milk and lemon juice, and that seemingly simple act taught me perhaps the greatest lesson of my entire life: I don’t need anyone anymore.
All my life – or really, ever since I saw the rerun of that PBS special called Frontier House last year– I’ve dreamed of moving away, far from civilization, but the one thing that kept me chained here was the nagging question: “But where will I get my cheese?”
Now I no longer need to wonder.
This is also an “in your face” to all my friends who loved to tease me while playing the cruel game of “If we were all stranded on a deserted island, who would die first?” Dee-Dee and Vivian would always battle over which of them could survive the longest. Dee bragged about all her camping trips as a child. Vivian would flaunt the fact that she could go longer than any of us without a shower. But in the end, no matter what order they ultimately settled on, one thing was always the given – Jenny would die first.
I never went camping as a child, have high maintenance hair, and have major issues with the idea of going to the bathroom outside. But what they always ignored was the fact that Dee-Dee gets squeamish eating meat on a bone, and Vivian’s diet consists almost entirely of hummus and pita. I come from Sicilian stock, and grew up cracking open chicken bones and sucking out the rich marrow. Now that I can make cheese, too, I think it’s clear who would survive. All I need is a cow. Or a goat. Or a sheep. And a lemon tree. Maybe a lighter. And a kettle. And a few yards of cheesecloth. And some Tupperware.
It’s just like the scriptures say: Give a woman some cheese and she’ll eat for a day. Teach a woman to make cheese and she’ll finally be able to stick it to the man, sell off all her worldly possessions, move into a cozy little cave somewhere in the woods, and ultimately spawn her own society of curly-haired savages.
If any of you are interested in joining my new sect – Jenstown – here’s how you can get started:
Step 1: Arrange all the ingredients on your stove in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
paneer 1
paneer 1b
Step 2: Slowly heat the milk until it almost comes to a boil.
paneer 2
Step 3: Add lemon juice and stir until the curds separate from the whey.
paneer 3
Step 4: Try to control your gag reflex as you watch the curdled milk rise to the top.
paneer 4
Step 5: Let the curds and whey cool for a few minutes.
paneer 5
Step 6: Strain the curds and whey into the cheesecloth.
paneer 6
Step 7: Gather the curds up into a ball and run under cool water. Squeeze out excess whey.
paneer 7
Step 8: Shape curds into a block.
paneer 8
Step 9: Place a heavy weight on top of the cheese to remove remaining whey. Let sit for a few hours.
paneer 9
Step 10: Remove paneer from the cheesecloth.
paneer 10
Step 11: Discover that paneer has no natural flavor, so put on top of a Triscuit and add salt.
paneer 11

18 Responses to “Oh, You Best Step Off My Tuffett…”

  1. Rhea Says:

    No way, you CAN make cheese at home?! Anything involving a cheesecloth intimidates me, but these photos prove it’s possible! Gosh, sign me up for Jenstown. I like Kool-aid, too.

  2. shari Says:

    No whey!!! I am prouder of you at this moment than I’ve ever been! You’ve taken your milk failure and turned it into a triscuit triumph. When you learn to make brie, I’m moving to Chicago.

  3. Dave2 Says:

    Um… you don’t really have to go to all that trouble, because they sell pre-made cheese in convenient bricks, balls, and slices at the grocery store! This way, you can be creative like I am and make food into other food by creating cheese sandwiches out of cheese and bread.
    If you insist on being this self-sufficient, however, your next step is to make your own Triscuits from wheat you harvest out of your back yard, and salt you’ve made by evaporating sea water.
    When you get to the point where you can make all the ingredients for a Pizano’s pizza, let me know. :-)

  4. jenny Says:

    rhea: i, too, once feared the cheesecloth. but no more! join me!
    shari: when will you stop taunting me with promises to come to chicago? first i have to rid the city of revolving doors… now i have to make brie? i can’t live like this!
    dave2: in jenstown, there will be pizano’s pizza every day! it will be made with paneer cheese, toadstools and a dirt crust, but it will be called pizano’s all the same.

  5. Iron Fist Says:

    If Shari can put in a request for Brie, can I get one in for a good Irish white cheddar? Maybe this can be a regular feature on your site. Dave2 has his Bullet Sundays, you can have your…Cheesy Tuesdays. Or, you know, something.

  6. sizzle Says:

    but…you made cheese! that’s so awesome. all i did this weekend was make a mess. not even an edible mess.

  7. cesca Says:

    Oh wow! Can I join your cult also? I’ve got tomatoes coming out my ears at the moment so I’m learning to preserve them… hey, we can have that with the cheese!

  8. jenny Says:

    iron fist: oh, i love a good irish cheddar! i suspect that will take at least a couple years of aging, though, so give me a call in 2009.
    sizzle: edible messes are the best kind.
    cesca: that’s just the kind of “can-do” attitude i’m looking for in jenstown. expect to hear from me soon.

  9. Michelle Says:

    Too bad you didn’t use the ‘failure milk’ in the recipe, then you could have snubbed the milk gods as well. But I’m guessing it would have had more of a bleu cheese taste to it that would be entirely unsuited to triscuits.
    I am envious that you made cheese. But incredibly impressed.
    Just for future reference, I grew up on a farm in Nebraska so if you ever wanna learn how to make sausage or bacon (or any other animal flavored food) … I’m yer girl. We can invite Dave2 to the taste testing. Or make him cook it. And laugh.

  10. Roy Says:

    Hey I think we have exact identical watchbands! You should post a better picture of it.
    Yeah, uh, nice cheese. Whatever. Are you going to eat it?

  11. Don Says:

    Hey, you bought more milk for this cheese! What happened to the old milk? You didn’t … you didn’t … drink it, did you?

  12. jenny Says:

    michelle: you can totally join my sect. we will definitely need a sausage-smith!
    roy: we’re totally BFF! and yes, i ate the cheese. i tried to make palak paneer, but had no spinach, nor the other 10 ingredients required. so i just fried up the cheese with garlic and cumin and chili pepper. it was actually not bad!
    don: shhh – it’s a secret! actually, every recipe i read for paneer called for full-fat milk, so i didn’t want to attempt to use the skim. i’m still working my way through that gallon…

  13. churlita Says:

    Wow, with all these dairy related posts, I’m starting to believe all that talk of you being from Wisconsin.
    Being a curly headed outdoorsy girl myself, I have one word for you – braids. It’s the only way to survive on a deserted island without product.

  14. Cheryl Says:

    Wow, now I finally know what cheesecloth is for. And dictionaries.
    And I agree with Churlita–I decked myself out with white-girl cornrows and made it through a week of summer camp with only one shower.

  15. dee-dee Says:

    you really need to talk to lexie…remember when she used to make yogurt on her windowsil in russia. i’m actually quite proud of your cheese accomplishment (given how you take to farm life…I know you know what I’m talking about here:).

  16. Jessica Says:

    Well I’m impressed….seriously. Next thing I know, you’ll be on a book tour with your new cook book and making fun of your appearance on Martha Stewart ;)

  17. jenny Says:

    churlita: braids, you say? i don’t think i’ve ever worn braids. hmmm…
    cheryl: wow – only one shower all week? you almost rival vivian!
    dee: you promised we would never speak of the farm. NEVER!
    jess: you’re sweet, but you know i would never make fun of him. i love his show! ;)

  18. ashbloem Says:

    Wow. I’m totally impressed, yet at the same time I am trying to control a gag reflex over those curds. This is a completely new feeling.

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