Do you remember your grandmother making her own cheese? Many, particularly the older among you, will recall the vision of small, white muslin bags attached to a convenient tree in the garden, swinging gently in a summer breeze.
Later, they were brought in, the muslins peeled away to leave a perfect few ounces of soft curd cheese. The contents were beaten with a little fresh milk and, magically, a few hours later would emerge a wonderful cheese cake or a batch of tasty blintzes oozing with sweetened cheese, or even the height of deliciousness - a kaese kugel made with lokshen, sweetened with sugar and sultanas and fragrant with vanilla and lemon rind.
Poverty was never far away in those days and cheese-making converted an unusable product - sour milk - into something edible and delicious. Since the advent of pasteurisation, it has not been so easy to make cheese from sour milk. However it is still possible to make a wonderful home-made soft cheese.
For four to six generous portions, take a 450g tub of Greek-style yoghurt and scoop into a clean glass bowl. Add one teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and stir. Place this bowl in the microwave and heat for exactly one minute - the yoghurt should be blood temperature. Now line a large bowl with a piece of clean muslin - sold in nursery and kitchen shops. Now scoop all the yoghurt mixture into this bowl and pull all the edges together so that it's contained in the centre. Wind an elastic band or use string to tie around the neck, keeping a bowl under it for drips. Then attach some twine to the neck and you are ready to hang your cheese bag - traditionally in the garden, or perhaps on a balcony, or even in the fridge. In a few hours you will have soft, moist curd cheese; if you leave it overnight, the cheese will have a firmer, drier consistency.
For a basic spread, delicious on a warm bagel, mix your cheese with salt and ground black pepper, or masses of paprika and some caraway seeds. Or add basil and chives chopped with a tablespoon of capers and a little milk and serve as a dip with toasted pitta. It also makes a great jacket potato mix blended with griddled field mushrooms and chopped watercress. And while soured cream notches up 205 calories for 100g, our homemade cheese made with yoghurt slims in at 133 calories for 125g.
For a slimline dinner-party starter arrange a bed of rocket, slices of fresh pear dipped in lemon juice, toasted pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, and top with a scoop of cheese. For a luscious alternative, line ramekins with a layer of cling-wrap, then thin smoked salmon leaving some to hang over the edge.
Combine the cheese with either flaked, skinned fillets of smoked trout and chopped pimentos, or smoked salmon pieces and grated lemon rind, and place in centre. Tuck in the ends and chill. To serve, turn out ramekins and add an elegant side salad.
For dessert, try stuffing fresh peaches with the cheese sweetened with a little honey and a squeeze of lime. Sprinkle with demerara sugar, pop under a hot grill and serve bubbling and gorgeous. Or recreate your favourite cheese cake recipe, or stroll down memory lane with this perfect kugel.
Serves 6. Each portion contains approximately 167 calories.
225g Greek-style yoghurt set with 1 teaspoon lemon juice to make curd cheese
3 free-range eggs, separated
25g (1oz) soft brown sugar plus 50g (1¾ oz) icing sugar
Rind of a whole lemon plus the juice of half
1 tablespoon mixed dried fruit or raisins
2 tablespoons Kiddush wine or sweet sherry
175g (6oz) lokshen cooked and cooled - this can be leftovers
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Dash of salt
● Pre-heat oven to 350°F, 180°C, gas mark 4.
● Prepare an oven-to-table dish set in a roasting pan of water.
● Scrape vanilla seeds out of pod and add to the lemon-juice and rind.
● Mix the dried fruit with the wine or sherry and leave for 20 mins approx, to plump up the fruit.
● Separate the eggs.
● Beat the yolks together with the brown sugar till light and fluffy, then beat in the cheese, lokshen and the drained, dried fruit.
● Whisk the whites with the icing sugar until stiff and fold into the cheese and lokshen mixture and bake for approximately 1 hour until set.