With its very open and loose weave, cotton cheesecloth has many uses; it helps add flavors to soups and stews, assists you in making jellies and some cheeses, and helps when you experiment with new recipes and cooking techniques. Available in either a fine, dense weave or an open, loose weave, cheesecloth also works doubled over into three or four layers if a recipe calls for a tightly woven variety.
Jellies and Sauces
Cheesecloth is an essential tool for making a clear strawberry jelly, a savory cherry sauce for meat or an orange glaze for baked goods. Line a strainer with the cheesecloth and pour in cooked and gently crushed fruit. Let the fruit drain without stirring for a very clear liquid, or press the fruit to obtain additional, but somewhat cloudy, liquid. You can also make a coffee concentrate by straining cold water through a cheesecloth filled with coffee grinds, then straining it a second time with a coffee filter.
Cheese of Many Kinds
Mozzarella, ricotta and feta are just a few of the cheeses made by separating the curds from the whey in a cheesecloth strainer. You can either place the curds into a bag made from cheesecloth suspending over a large bowl with the bag tied to a long wooden spoon, or you can line a colander with the cheesecloth; let the mixture drain for 24 hours with both methods. Although it’s not a “real” cheese, yogurt cheese resembles cream cheese when you strain it in a similar manner.
Herbs for Cooking
Spices and herbs wrapped in cheesecloth flavor cooked broths and sauces. The cheesecloth works well for this purpose because it allows liquids to permeate the cloth, letting the flavors seep out, but keeping out the twigs, cloves or bay leaves. A mix of parsley, thyme and bay leaves, called a bouquet garni in French, flavors soups, stews and sauces, while a combination of mustard and celery seeds, whole allspice and peppercorns flavors homemade ketchup.
Beef and Poultry
Cheesecloth works magic for cooking poultry and aging beef. Saturate it with melted butter and place it over a turkey or chicken breast to help ensure moist and perfectly cooked poultry. Or, experiment with dry-aging a roast or steak to concentrate flavors. To stay safe, ensure that your refrigerator registers below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, wrap the meat in cheesecloth; set it on a rack over a baking sheet; and refrigerate it for three to seven days, rewrapping it with the same piece of cheesecloth each day to prevent sticking. Cut away any dried areas before cooking it.
References and ResourcesThe Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
National Center for Home Food Preservation: Making Jams and Jellies
Bon Appetit: Cold-Brew Iced Coffee Concentrate
Fine Cooking: How to Make Your Own Feta
Cooking Light: How to Make Ketchup
Food and Wine: Roasting the Turkey
Fine Cooking: How to Dry-Age Beef at Home