Cheesecloth is gauze-like, woven cotton cloth. Its original purpose was for making and wrapping homemade cheese, but it has become a useful tool in other recipes as well. It is used as a strainer when a fine sieve is needed, as a cover for roast turkey or chicken to keep the bird moist, and is made into little pouches for herbs for seasoning meats, broth, soups, and other dishes.
Cheesecloth is something we may not often have in our kitchen. If you don't have any on hand, luckily there are plenty of alternatives. Just make sure the item is clean before cooking.
Since cheesecloth is cotton, other types of cotton fabric will work as a substitute. You can use a flour sack towel, pillowcase, bandana, scrap of fabric, clean cloth diaper, cloth napkin, or jelly bag to strain foods or contain little bundles of herbs. Choose something you don't care about because the food you're straining can permanently stain the fabric. Use a rubber band to secure the fabric over a bowl so it’s held taut while you pour and be sure to pour liquids through the fabric slowly so they have time to work their way through. Don't forget to toss the fabric in the wash when finished.
Fine Mesh Bag
Fine mesh bags have many uses around the home, from laundry to food-making to painting. In place of cheesecloth, you can use a laundry bag, nut milk bag (used for making almond milk), mesh bag (used for making alcohol), or a paint strainer bag (found in hardware stores) to strain broths, cheeses, yogurts, and other foods. Many people find mesh bags worth buying for the simple reason that they’re much easier to clean than cheesecloth and last a lot longer. If you’ve ever worked with cheesecloth before, you know just how quickly it wears out and how difficult it can be to clean.
Fine Wire Sieve
If you need cheesecloth for straining, a fine wire sieve is often more than adequate for foods like broths and cheeses. It won’t catch quite as many of the fine particles as cheesecloth, so you need to choose the sieve that makes sense for the recipe. For example, if perfectly clear, seed-free jelly is important to you, using a fine wire sieve won't bring you the results you want.
Although not as common anymore when it comes to fashion, stockings are useful in many other ways—including as a substitute for cheesecloth. Create the perfect strainer by stretching a clean pair of pantyhose or tights over a large mixing bowl. You can also cut off one of the feet, stick some herbs inside, and tie it shut for a spice pouch. Toss the pantyhose in the wash when you're done and reuse it again and again.
Whether you have disposable coffee filters or a reusable one, either will work in place of cheesecloth when straining. Since the weave of the material is pretty tight (it has to be to keep the grounds out of your coffee), you’ll find it does a beautiful job of straining other foods. If using the filter from your coffee maker, just be sure to clean it well before returning it to the machine.