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.
How Cheesecloth Is Used to Make Cheese
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 cheese. Clothbound cheddar (also called bandage-wrapped cheddar) is considered to be the most traditional style of cheddar cheese and is the style of cheddar that England is known for. Many American cheesemakers also make clothbound cheddar now.
During the cheesemaking process, this fabric 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.
Homemade Cheese Recipes That Use Cheesecloth
Ricotta, Farmer's, and Goat Cheese are three types of cheese that can be made at home that use cheesecloth in the process.
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, 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. If you can only find a loosely woven cloth, you can double or triple fold it to create a tighter hold.
Other Cooking Uses of Cheesecloth
Cheesecloth can be used to strain soup stock, make tofu, strain homemade yogurt, make ghee, or bundle herbs into a bouquet garni. As with cheesemaking, the weave of the cloth will impact how it's used. If you need to seal the cheesecloth, like in a bouquet garni for stock, either tie the bundle in a knot or tie the bundle closed with kitchen twine.
Here are 3 alternatives to cheesecloth:
- Fine-Mesh bags: These bags are often used for making almond milk, other nut milks, 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 sackcloths: 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: These are cheap, easy to clean, and reusable. Just be sure you separate which handkerchiefs are for kitchen use and which ones are for other things.