There it sits, in a kitchen drawer gathering dust: the cheesecloth that you purchased on a whim but never used, abandoned without a second thought. It’s time to pull out that cheesecloth, dust it off and put this handy tool to good use.
Traditionally used in cheese making to separate curds from whey, cheesecloth is a multipurpose tool in both the kitchen and around the house. Cheesecloth is a lightweight, open-weave cotton fabric. Deemed a necessity in French kitchens as early as the 17th century, cheesecloth’s unique characteristics make it a go-to item in today’s kitchens, too. Chefs and home cooks appreciate that it does not change the flavor of food and it stands up to any liquid: hot, cold or acidic.
What is it good for? In the kitchen, cheesecloth is commonly used to create sachets — little pouches of herbs and other aromatics. These sachets are an easy way to add flavor without adding significant calories or any sodium. Loosely tied up with kitchen twine, sachets add amazing flavor when dropped into soups and stocks. Cheesecloth sachets are also useful as tea bags for loose tea leaves. And when used as a strainer, cheesecloth is perfect for thickening yogurt for recipes such as tzatziki sauce and for removing solids from soups and stocks.
Cheesecloth is also essential in the making and pressing of tofu. Wrapping cheesecloth around lemons or other citrus fruits is a handy way to prevent seeds from escaping onto food when juiced. Out of coffee filters? No problem — cheesecloth makes a perfect substitute. And of course, cheesecloth can be used to make cheese. It’s especially useful for queso fresco, a Mexican cheese made from whole milk; mild farmer cheese; Indian paneer; and German quark cheese, a creamy ricotta-like cheese that is often used in cooking.
Contributing Editor Sara Haas, RD, LDN, works at Roche Dietitians and the Centered Chef in Chicago.