Queso Fresco with Chipotles and Cilantro
If you're making a Mexican or Southwest feast, you'll want to make some Queso Fresco, or fresh cheese. If, on the other hand, you're indulging your desire for a bit of Indian cuisine, maybe a tikka masala, you'll want Paneer. In either case, you're making the same cheese.
If you've never made cheese before, this is as good a cheese as any to start with. You'll also want to read Home Creamery: Whole Milk Ricotta to get a more in-depth look at the most basic cheesemaking equipment and techniques.
Queso Fresco requires milk and acid. Whole milk is best, and it must not be ultra-pasteurized. Lime juice makes for an excellent acid, as does lemon juice. You might also choose to use white vinegar or even citric acid. If you choose to use vinegar use half as much as for lime or lemon juice. I don't have an accurate measurement for citric acid, so you'll be on your own if you choose that method. For one gallon (4 liters) of milk you'll need the juice of four limes, which is about half a cup. It's good to have an extra lime handy just in case there isn't enough juice.
Gently bring the milk to 185°F/85°C, then stir in the lime juice. Stir until the curds separate and look sort of grainy. If the curds don't separate within a couple of minutes, squeeze more lime juice into the milk. Once you have curds, let them simmer for about two minutes with the heat off.
Using a mesh strainer, lift the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin or three layers of cheesecloth. If you want to save the whey for your plants, animals, children, or morning cereal, set the colander over a bowl.
After the curds have drained a couple of minutes, add salt to taste, mixing gently with your hands. When you taste, remember that the cheese will be served at room temperature, so a very slightly heavy hand with the salt would be best. If you want to add herbs or chilies have them diced or minced and add them at the same time as the salt. Remember that chilies will infuse the cheese with heat while it sets, so less is better. I used minced chipotles and cilantro in this batch.
When you're satisfied that you've added enough salt, carefully fold the cloth over the cheese and then hang it from the water spout over your kitchen sink and let it drain for a few hours, or even as long as overnight if you want a dry cheese. When you're satisfied that enough whey has drained from the cheese, refrigerate until about 30 minutes before you want to serve it. Let it warm to room temperature, slice, and enjoy.
That's it. Dead easy and quite impressive to guests. If I were making paneer instead of queso fresco, I'd use lemons, but that's just my opinion.