Say cheese with this smile-worthy whey of using up sour milk
It’s very hard to grasp the gobsmacking, appalling enormity of our food waste. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN, we squander at least 30% of what’s grown or harvested, and food waste accounts for about 8% of global carbon emissions (that’s nearly as high as global road transport emissions). Despite this apparent surplus, hundreds of millions go hungry every year; 820-million at last count.
Clearly the problem is not about volumes, but rather about a deeply flawed system. Vegetables and fruits are often the most wasted items, followed by milk (in countries where dairy is applicable). We have fridges and the milk is generally pasteurised, but still, it’s getting chucked. Industry waste is hard for us to hinder, but we really can reduce waste on the domestic front.
If there’s just a splodge of milk left, use it in your baking or pancakes: the results are actually better when it’s soured, as the lactic acid has a tenderising action. But when you have a litre or more going adrift, making your own curd cheese is the answer. You need to catch the milk quickly, in its first sourness (that point at which you wave the bottle under other people’s noses to confirm your suspicions; at which the dog laps it up but the cat won’t). The recipe won’t work well with skim or low-fat milk, but then again, what does? Of course, I know that you, dear reader, are only using milk from pastured — that is to say, free-range and grass-fed — cows. Thank you, that’s wonderful.
The method is simple. Boil the milk in any pot that leaves empty space atop, and keep an eye on things: it boils over quickly. While it’s heating, squeeze some lemon juice. You need about two tablespoons for each litre of milk (vinegar if you have no lemons on hand). Whip the just-boiled milk off the heat, stir in the juice. When fat curds float on top of an almost clear whey, pour everything into a cotton kitchen cloth lining a colander, which in turn rests on a large deep bowl. Let all whey drain through, twist the cloth closed, and press lightly. I like soft paneer, but if you prefer firm cheese, simply place a weight — like a can — on top. Leave the cheese until cool, then cut into half-inch to one-inch squares. Its smallness will make you understand why cheese is so very expensive, and the exercise is almost worth doing just for that. To deploy the paneer, I advise Google as your guide. It keeps for a good few days, and even freezes passably.
The whey — because remember you’ve now only saved some of the milk — should be used as the liquid element in whatever sauce you make for it, to make smoothies protein-rich, or in breads and cakes as a more nutritious fluid than water. And, almost poetically, the paneer will last longer if stored in the whey it came from. Food waste aside, it makes you feel almost foolishly happy when a cheese — no matter how basic — emerges from your very own kitchen. And God knows we all need a bit of that right now.