Medieval Cheese (Paneer)

A Simple Acid-Curdled Fresh Cheese
Lord Thomas Tanner of Ely, A&S Competition 2007

Cheese is an ancient method of preserving milk. Recipes for cheesemaking go back at least as far as ancient Roman sources, but unfortunately for the Medieval cheesemaker, cheese was either made on the farm or in monasteries, and so the process is not recorded until the end of our period. We do know that some modern cheeses are period – brie, Cheddar, Ricotta, Gorgonzola – these are just some of the extant cheeses that are period1. But it is certain that production methods have changed somewhat with the use of precise temperature control, sterilization and rigorous testing of ingredients. However, the basic process remains the same: Milk is curdled in one of 3 ways -(rennet (stomach enzymes), plant alkaloids (nettles, sage, etc.) or acid (lemons or vinegar) Curds are drained of their whey Some working and seasoning may occur Cheese is aged, if necessary.

 The period recipes I have been able to source2 refer to rennet curdling, which entails more precise temperature control and handling than I felt equipped for. I decided that a simpler approach was called for, as this would be my first time making cheese. So I made an acid-curdled cheese, in this case an Indian paneer. I chose it partly because of the simplicity of manufacture, but also because it is a product I have sampled and enjoyed myself.

 The recipe I used comes from an internet source, adapted to taste.

2 l Whole Milk
4 tbs Lemon Juice

Heat Milk to boiling, then remove from heat
Add lemon juice. Leave for a minute for curdling to complete.
Drain through cloth, season lightly with salt, and knead for a few minutes.
Wrap in cloth and press.
Use within 48 hours

 Unfortunately, the slightly different chemistry of acid-curdling makes such cheeses unsuitable for aging, and this paneer can only be kept for a couple of days. It can be used much as cottage cheese is, and for demonstration purposes, I am serving it on crackers.

 I am happy with the overall result – it worked as expected, and the end product is certainly edible, if a trifle bland. It could certainly be enhanced with spices or herbs. I intend to try a rennet-curdled cheese in the near future, and possibly also a mould-inoculated one.

2) The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, Knight, Opened – pg. 90