Vinegar or gypsy cheese isn’t a true cheese but is simply the first stage of the cheese making process. It’s a quick way of making use of a glut of milk, to solidify and store it for later but its also a cooking ingredient in its own right.
True cheeses are matured, preferably in old cellars in ancient buildings. Vinegar cheese doesn’t have the same romance but still has a place in the kitchen and on the plate.
Vinegar cheese almost disappeared but has now made a comeback. You will probably call it by it’s Asian name of ‘paneer’. It’s almost the same thing.
Cheese curds are traditionally created by adding rennet to milk but you can make curds quickly at home without rennet, with something acidic instead, like vinegar, or lemon juice. This is vinegar or gypsy cheese! This method is preferable to vegetarians as natural rennet is an animal product. Vinegar is simply added to heated milk to make it curdle.
The resulting cheese will be quite subtle in flavour and slightly rubbery (like haloumi cheese), but not prone to melting, making it ideal frying/grilling or for remaining intact in hot foods. It can be matured to change the flavour.
Any acidic liquid will curdle milk, and you can use lemon juice if you wan,t but it doesn’t matter because the liquid will be strained off later so you might as well use the cheapest and easiest to use, which is vinegar. If you use lemon juice you will not taste the lemon in the cheese later.
Older English recipes for this cheese call for wrapping in nettle leaves and burying in order for it to mature, and to take on a richer flavour. It certainly improves if kept for a while. There is in fact a nettle cheese in Cornwall called ‘Yarg’. Perhaps its origins were in the garden. Burying it in the garden is a little extreme now that we have plastics and fridges, but don’t let me stop you. All I’m saying is that when I tried this I ended up with a neat little packet of compost (some of it mobile). When I matured my cheese in a cool clean place the results were good but I like to flavour my cheese with herbs and eat it fresh.
How to make vinegar cheese
What you need
– 1 litre of milk
– approx. 1 oz (30 ml) of vinegar
What to do
– slowly bring the milk to a gentle boil (small bubbles forming on surface) over a period of 20 minutes or more
– remove any skin that has formed
– turn off the heat
– add vinegar and stir gently until it curdles
– pour into a muslin lined sieve
– add salt and mix
– optional: add chopped herbs or other flavourings and mix
– twist up into a ball in the muslin cloth and wring out the moisture.
– leave to cool and set
– optional: add liquid flavours and/or colour for interesting veining
You will notice in the recipe above two points at which you can add flavourings which allows you to create something savoury or something sweet.
The recipe calls for the milk to be brought to the boil slowly. By bringing to the boil quickly you can create a cottage cheese type, or a wonderful pudding.
Bubbles forming on the milk
The milk curdles after adding the vinegar and curd begin to form
Pour everything into a muslin cloth and the curds will be left behind
Pressing the cheese
The twisting of the muslin cloth may have to be done after a few minutes, after the cheese has cooled a bit, so that you don’t scald your hands. I wish I’d known this.
Twist the cloth and curds into a tight ball to wring out the remaining liquid
I managed to pick up a small press which I now use for pressing the curds to create a disk of cheese, rather than a ball, but the tie wrap and twist method is just as good.
How much pressure?
The tighter you press the cheese then the more solid it will become however, creating a looser press allows air gaps between the curds which can then be veined. I first discovered this accidentally when I wrapped some cheese in cling film to mature it in a cool place. I wrote the date on the cling film in red felt tip marker pen. When I went back to recover the cheese the writing had disappeared. It had been absorbed through the membrane and the cheese was marbled with red, an amazing sight. ‘Marker Pen’ cheese was not a culinary success obviously, but you can achieve the same thing by wrapping with jam or any other liquid, semi-liquid, or paste. Marinades are good too.
Very fresh cheese is subtle in flavour and slightly chalky, not unpleasant but it improves, as all other cheeses do, with age. The trick is to keep the air out to prevent it from decaying. Cheese can be preserved in oil, ur better stil, in flavoured oil.
Adding chopped herbs and other flavours
My experiments are ongoing but below are some successes and some failures.
– mint sauce (note mint sauce comes in vinegar so just use mint sauce to curdle your milk)
– Mint with basil infused oil
– Ginger if made with open crumb curd
– Honey if made with open crumb curd
– chopped basil
I have smoked many cheeses with success and vinegar cheese is no exception. I do this in my home made filing cabinet smoker but you can also do it in the kitchen. For details click here.
I hope you found this article a bit cheesy.