Building Your Bliss — & Paneer Cheese (RECIPE)

November 8, 2010 § 5 Comments

To get your creative juices flowing on a Monday, here’s a question: What’s your dream?

Maybe you’re one of the lucky folks living your dream. But even if you’re already following your bliss, I think it’s always fun — and expands our capacity to consider what else is possible in our lives — to have a “bliss list” of sorts, things we’d love to do, whether they’re small or big or crazy or sane.

Some of your dreams may take some time to fulfill. But others might be completely within reach, sooner than later. For example, one of my dreams is to produce 80% of the food we eat at home ourselves — growing, raising and processing it from scratch — but that’s going to take time, as I need to build the knowledge and experience, and we need to find the space, to do it. Other dreams, though, have been easier for me to realize sooner: shooting a gun (click here for that adventure), taking a cooking class in Italy (click here for that story) and most recently, learning to make my own cheese (all of which, as I’m sure you can see, are building blocks leading to my big dream of producing 80% of the food we eat at home).

Reflecting on how I’ve been evolving my life, and more recently, reading this Blog of Impossible Things, I’ve realized that there are three steps to building your bliss:

1 — Name it: What’s your dream? What would make you feel happy, peaceful and fulfilled? Create that bliss list. (See my post on Living The Dream here.)

2 — Map it: What step(s) can you take in the next one, three and six months toward realizing your dream(s)? To form the habits that will let you live your dream(s)? (See my post on the Magic of Habit-Forming here.)

3 — Do it: Yeah, pretty self explanatory. But one thing that I’ve found that helps: Share your dreams and steps with a small cadre of people you know will be enthusiastic and supportive. They’ll keep you going when it seems hard or crazy, and they’ll also help to keep you accountable for persisting. Avoid negatrons who will only crush your dreams.

Learning cheese-making with friends

So, back to the cheese-making, since this is a food blog, after all! As I’m sure is not surprising to you, I followed these three steps to pursue my cheese dream.

1 — Named it: I love cheese, and I have this (perhaps slightly crazy) dream of producing 80% of our food from scratch. So, I wanted to be able to make cheese myself.

2 — Mapped it: Well, if I’m going to make my own cheese, I figured it’d be good to learn from someone who actually knows what they’re doing. I’d read multiple recipes and articles about home cheese-making, but I learn best by seeing and doing. So, step one — signed up for a cheese-making class led by Sheana Davis, a chef, cheese maker, caterer and culinary educator based in Sonoma. To learn more about Sheana’s catering, cheese making and culinary classes, click here.

3 — Did it: I’ve been fortunate to have friends who share many of my dreams, or at least, are willing to go along for the ride. It’s been a great way to keep myself accountable, but also to build deeper bonds. My friends, Katie and Meredith, were just as enthused about the cheese-making class as I was, so the three of us did it together. In fact, one of Meredith’s dreams is to run her own cheese shop, so this was a perfect group adventure.

Sheana was a great teacher, demonstrating each step in making paneer, an easy cheese that is a great introduction to home cheese-making…

Scooping out paneer curds

…creamy, slightly tangy goat’s milk chevre, lovely spread on baguette toasts with a bit of Meyer lemon jam…

Draining chevre through butter muslin

…creme fraiche, wonderful eaten out of a little bowl with a spoon or used in a variety of recipes…

A jar of creamy goodness, a.k.a. creme fraiche

…and patiently answering numerous questions from the participants in the sold-out class.

Sheana, our teacher extraordinaire

Because I made taco night from scratch for 12 of my husband’s work colleagues (five pounds of carne asada, four pounds of shredded chicken and a homemade tres leches cake) and we’re leaving for Australia and New Zealand in two days, I haven’t made my own cheese yet. But I can’t wait to do it when we return.

And in the meantime, I have Meredith as inspiration. When we left the class, she said, “I thought this would be entertaining but that I’d never actually make my own cheese. But I’m so doing it!” She went home from the class armed with her own cheesecloth, and on Saturday, I saw this e-mail in my inbox*:

So, I’ll start the same way I began: What’s your dream? Can you name it, map it and do it?

*See more of Meredith’s cheese in the recipe below


For those of you who share my home cheese-making dream, here’s a super simple recipe to get you started.

PANEER (also spelled panir)

From Sheana Davis. To learn more about Sheana’s catering, cheese making and culinary classes, click here

Total Time: 30 minutes active plus up to 12 hours to let the cheese drain

Planning Notes: As Sheana shared, home cheese-making is 90% sanitation. You want to sanitize all of your utensils thoroughly so you’re not introducing unwanted bacteria into your cheese. See instruction #1 below.


14 cups whole milk (or, 1 gallon minus 2 cups); you can also use goat’s milk, but don’t use less than whole milk or it won’t work

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons white vinegar (you can try lemon juice, but since the acidity of lemons varies, curds may or may not set properly; I’d try bottled lemon juice, which has more consistent acidity over freshly-squeezed)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Cooking Instructions

1 — Thoroughly clean all of your utensils (pot, whisk, spoon, cheesecloth, colander). Wash in warm, soapy water. Then wash with a diluted bleach solution (1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water). Dry with clean towels.

2 — Heat milk and cream over medium heat in a large pot to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (use a candy or oil thermometer to monitor temperature). Whisk often to prevent scorching.

3 — Turn heat to low. Add vinegar and salt. Give the mix one gentle, clockwise turn, just to combine the ingredients. If you stir too vigorously, curds may not set.

4 — Cover the pot. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Curds will begin to form.

5 — Line a colander with cheesecloth. Pour contents of the pot into your contraption to drain the curd.

Meredith's paneer draining

6 — You can eat it at this point; it’ll be the consistency of slightly firm ricotta. It’s divine warm (having sampled it during the class). Or, you can tie cheesecloth around the cheese in a bundle and let it drain until it’s the consistency you desire. This is the same cheese used in Indian cooking, so if you want it that firm, let it drain a while. You can leave it on your counter or kitchen table or stick it in your pantry — wherever you can leave it undisturbed and at about room temp.

Meredith's final product!

Serving Notes

  • Eat warm scooped into small bowls as an appetizer or dessert, topped or mixed with savory or sweet delights: As an appetizer — good olive oil, sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper; sun-dried tomatoes; peppers; herbs. As dessert — dried fruit; jam; currants and lemon zest
  • Dollop into soup, as Meredith did
  • Use in home-made ravioli or other pasta
  • Add it to a frittata (see my chard frittata recipe here) or a home-made pizza
  • Add it to Indian dishes


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