The Definition of Cheesecloth
Cheesecloth is a gauzy, lightweight, woven cotton fabric with tiny holes that allow air to flow through the fabric. Cheesecloth is available in at least seven different grades, from open to extra-fine weave. Grades are distinguished by the number of threads per inch in each direction.
Cheesecloth is Used to Make Cheese
But is cheesecloth really used to make cheese? Yes - this type of fabric started being referred to as "cheesecloth" because cheesemakers realized that it protected cheese but also allowed it to breathe while it aged.
For this reason, cheesecloth is wrapped around some types of wheels of cheese while they age. Most commonly, it is wrapped around Cheddar. Clothbound Cheddar (also called bandage-wrapped Cheddar) is considered to be the most traditional style of Cheddar and is the style of Cheddar that England is known for (however, some English Cheddar is wrapped in linen, not cheesecloth). Many American cheesemakers also make clothbound Cheddar now. Some types of clothbound Cheddar to try:
- Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
- Beecher's Flagship Reserve
- Fiscalini Farmstead Bandage-Wrapped Raw Milk Cheddar
- Grafton Village Vermont Clothbound Cheddar
- Montgomery Cheddar
Cheesecloth is not just used to protect cheese while it ages. Because this type of fabric (cheesecloth) is so lightweight, liquid flows through it but solids are caught. For this reason, cheesecloth can be used to strain all sorts of liquids and is handy to have around the kitchen.
Cheesecloth can be used to strain soup stock, make tofu, strain homemade yogurt, or bundle herbs into a bouquet garni. In terms of cheesemaking, it can be used to drain the liquid (whey) from cheese curds. This is necessary, because if cheese curds hold too much moisture they cannot be shaped and aged into wheels of cheese.
If you are attempting to make cheese at home (such as ricotta, farmers cheese, paneer or fresh goat cheese), then cheesecloth is something that you must buy.
Home Cheesemaking Recipes that use Cheesecloth
Here are 4 recipes for making cheese at home using cheesecloth:
Where to Buy Cheesecloth
Cheesecloth can be found in the kitchen supply section of many grocery and department stores. It is also commonly sold in kitchen supply stores and can be bought from many different online retailers.
Cheesecloth is sold in long pieces and is usually fairly inexpensive. Once purchased,you can use scissors to cut the cheesecloth down to whatever size you need. For cheesemaking, look for tightly-woven or ultra-fine cheesecloth. If cheesecloth is loosely woven, it will not catch or hold all of the solids when you try to drain the whey from the cheese curds.
Other Cooking Uses of Cheesecloth
Cheesecloth is also used in straining stocks and custards, bundling herbs, making tofu and ghee, and thickening yogurt.
Here are 3 alternatives to cheesecloth
- Fine-Mesh Bags: These bags are often used for making almond milk or for holding grains when making beer. They are typically made of nylon, come in multiple sizes, and can be machine washed. They won't stretch over time and are resistant to picking up stains or food odors
- Flour Sack Cloths: Flour sack towels are thin cotton towels with a loose weave — the weave is tighter than cheesecloth but looser than average dish towels.
- Men's Large Handkerchiefs: Cheap, easy to clean, reusable. Just be sure you separate which handkerchiefs are for kitchen use and which ones are for other things.