My better half is a lactard.
When we first met and he confessed to me he was lactose intolerant, I was troubled. To me, coming from a French family where cheese is not just a staple but a necessary for survival, not being able to eat cheese would be a complete nightmare for me. Troubled by how I would cook without butter (yes, butter is a dairy product), without cream, without gorgonzola and coming to terms with no more grilled cheeses, no more pasta carbonara and more… I had to figure out a way around this predicament. And, I did. I found out about Almond Milk, Belsoy, soy ice cream (eek!), coconut milk, and finally some lactose-free cheese at my run-of-the-mill grocery store out of all places, and in the refrigerator next it, some lactose-free milk. But aside from all these dairy products, do you have any idea how many food products contain some sort of dairy?!?!?! Come on people, time to wake up and read your labels.
Now, it had been years since Mr. Better Half had had lasagna and I was craving lasagna; you know, the good kind like your mom used to make. I decided I would make this lasagna, with a creamy cheesy center and all. So I pooled my resources and attempted to make my own homemade cheese, aka paneer. Paneer is that cheese that you find in Indian dishes and is incredibly easy to make. Actually, it’s kinda stupid and here’s how you do it. You do need some extra equipment that most of don’t have lying around in our kitchens: cheesecloths. They are easy to find in most grocery stores, so usually there is no need to go to a specialty store to find them.
T & T – Homemade Cheese, a.k.a. Paneer
- 1 litre lactose-free milk
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp herbs or spices
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
In a large pot bring the milk, salt, herbs or spices to a simmer on medium-high heat. Just as it boils, turn off the heat and stir in lemon juice. You will see that the milk will start to curdle. That’s normal; let it sit for about 15 minutes. Take one sheet of cheesecloth and line it into a strainer. Strain the milk mixture, gather the cheesecloth and slightly squeeze out some more liquid. Wrap the cheese in the cloth, press it between two plates and refrigerate for a couple of hours. You can also add a jar on top of the plate to press down the cheese even more. And voilà, you’ve made cheese!
You can choose all sorts of different spice blends, herbs (dried or fresh) to make a variety of cheeses for any recipe you can think of. This cheese remains creamy but doesn’t melt, so you can pan-fry it. Play around with different flavours, you’ll be amazed by what you can come up with.
For this batch I chose to include about one teaspoon of herbes de provence since I was planning on using the cheese as a ricotta replacement for my Lactard Lasagna. So here’s a sneak-peak at the creamy cheesy center of my lasagna:
Homemade Cheese and Spinach Filling
- 1 batch homemade lactose-free cheese
- 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 4 cups of fresh spinach coarsely chopped (or a 5oz package)
- ¼ cups shredded lactose-free mozzarella
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a pan drizzled with olive oil, sauté the onions and the spinach until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to mixing bowl and allow spinach to cool. Once cooled, crumble the homemade cheese and add the shredded mozzarella. Mix all ingredients until well combined. Set aside until ready to build your lasagna. Instead of lasagne, you can also use this mixture as a stuffing for pasta shells, cannelloni, chicken, Portobello mushrooms… Be creative and don’t be afraid to try new things!