We often come across items in our homes and kitchens that are useful in more ways than one. In the kitchen, one of those versatile tools is a cheesecloth. Besides its use in making and keeping homemade cheese, it also comes in handy in other ways. Its structure makes it an excellent material for filtering liquids, making a seasoning pouch, and even covering roasted meat, not to lose moisture.
But not everyone has a cheesecloth at home, so when these needs arise, you can still use other handy materials and tools from your kitchen as ideal substitutes. But before we check out these alternatives, let’s quickly analyze why cheesecloth works in the ways we’ve come to use them.
What is Cheesecloth?
Cheesecloth is a woven material made with cotton fabric, with a gauze-like weave structure. Its distinct design is primarily created to suit cheese making. The weave design of cheesecloth comes in various grades, depending on how closely woven the threads are. As such, cheesecloth weave grades can vary from open, for passage of more materials to extra-fine, for sifting finer particles.
As the name implies, the cheesecloth is used to hold the cheese curds, allowing the whey to be removed. The cloth also keeps the curds in place, so they solidify and form the block of cheese. Cheesecloth is also used to strain other liquid and semi-liquid foods like stock, soups, and broth because of its sieving properties. It’s also used to make ghee, jelly, tofu, and custard, and with it, you can make the yoghurt thicker by letting the excess liquid filter out.
Cheesecloth is also used to cover roast meat after taking it out of the oven, among its numerous culinary uses. The tightly woven threads ensure the moisture in the roasted chicken, turkey, or beef isn’t completely lost. It can also be used to make a seasoning pouch where you mix herbs and spices for foods. This pouch, or bouquet garni, will simmer in soups and stews, releasing the cooked herbs and spices into the dish while holding the solid ingredients together.
Although we agree that having a cheesecloth in our kitchen is very helpful, we often don’t have one around. And when a recipe calls for its use, it can be hard to get one, as cheesecloth can be pretty expensive. The good thing is you can still use other materials and items in your kitchen as a substitute for cheesecloth.
This item is perhaps the most convenient substitute you can come across for cheesecloth. Your typical kitchen towel is woven almost as intricately as cheesecloth and will help strain liquids quickly. Kitchen towels are heavier, so you may need to help the process by squeezing them a bit. Also, make sure that it’s clean before you use, and avoid kitchen towels that have been dyed- these can wash into your food and ruin it, or worse, poison you. With a kitchen towel, you can sift almost anything from teas to milk, herbs, and even soups. Kitchen towels are also helpful in covering roast meat to keep the moisture in, but make sure you use a large one to envelop the food thoroughly.
A fine wire sieve is also a good substitute for cheesecloth, and what’s more, you can easily wash it after use. It’s also more appropriate for soups, sauces, and broths, but you won’t get a smooth or finer straining than the tightly woven cheesecloth. Still, the straining power of fine mesh sieves varies with each type, so check for this before you use one.
Coffee filters are designed initially to strain the brewed coffee liquid from the coffee grounds. So, they make sense as an ideal substitute for cheesecloth. You can decide to use the reusable coffee filter and wash afterwards. Or you could take the disposable types instead. Whichever you pick, coffee filters will give you a more pleasing strain for liquids.
Surprising but true, your average sock works as a fantastic filter and can be used in place of cheesecloth. Socks are made of tightly woven threads and will allow liquids to strain appropriately through them. But make sure to use a clean, unused stock (obviously), and wash it clean after use. Socks work for broths and can also be used to strain tea and coffee.
Now, you may worry that finding linen to use in place of cheesecloth may seem like an even more expensive option, but it’s not. Your standard pillowcase is made of linen material, so if you happen to have one you haven’t used yet sitting in your wardrobe, why not take it out for this? If you’re straining small quantities of liquid, a linen tea towel will do just fine. But make sure whichever pure using doesn’t contain any dyes and has been thoroughly washed- even if it’s brand new.
Other Substitutes for Cheesecloth
Besides preparing cheese, cheesecloth is also regularly used to make cannabutter. The process is pretty much the same. If this is what you want to do, you can substitute it with paper towels. Coffee filters will also work for this as well.
Many fermentation recipes advise that you cover the bottle or jar with cheesecloth so dust or dirt don’t fall into the brew. But some worry that the fabric isn’t tightly woven enough to keep out tiny insects like gnats. A decent substitute for it in this regard would be a tea towel or a clean kitchen napkin, as they have a tighter weave. But use multiple layers of these to be double sure.
As a Spice Bag
A small bandana or even a jelly bag makes a perfect substitute for cheesecloth if you’re making a spice pouch. They’ll hold the herbs and spices firmly in and allow the liquid and essence to seep out into the food as it simmers in the broth or soup.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I use paper towels instead of cheesecloth?
Yes, you can, but you’ll need multiple layers of it. Also, it’s best to change the paper towels once you notice it has stopped straining. And it works best for more minor activities like filtering tea or coffee or a small bowl of broth.
Do I need to wash cheesecloth?
Yes, you do. Cheesecloth filters and strains food for you, so it must be kept clean. If you’re washing with detergent, use a mild one and be sure to rinse it thoroughly. Anything less, and you’ll end up staining soap reside into your foods. And if you boil it in water for about 6 minutes, you can consider it sterile.
Is flour sack the same as cheesecloth?
No, they’re not. Flour sacks are tightly woven fabric sheets, and they make excellent filters in place of cheesecloth.
We all know cheesecloth makes a unique tool for straining, but if you find yourself in need of one, these substitutes can be of great help. And you can use them in different ways, so you’ll always have alternatives to replace cheesecloth in your cooking procedures.
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