Start to Finish: 75 minutes, plus draining time
Servings: 1 pound of cheese
Akawi cheese, also sometimes spelled ackawi, akkawi or ackawi, is a Middle Eastern fresh cheese. It is eaten from Palestine to Lebanon, where its mild taste and slight saltiness make it an ideal pairing for fresh fruit or pitas. Making the cheese at home is similar to making halloumi, queso fresco or paneer cheese, all of which are fresh, lactic acid cheeses that are drained and pressed after the curds have been formed. This recipe is adapted from ones by From City to Farm and Cheesemaking.com.
Place the milk in a large stock pot and heat on low heat, stirring occasionally. Bring the milk up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, measuring the temperature with an instant-read thermometer.
Do not let the milk boil. Once boiled, it is likely that the milk will not form the right kind of curds.
Stir in the vinegar, salt and calcium chloride. Lower the heat on the stove, keeping the milk between 86 to 88 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine the rennet with a 1/4 cup of water.
Pour the rennet mix into the milk, stirring well. Turn off the heat and cover the pot. Let the milk rest for 30 to 40 minutes, giving time for the curds to form.
Test the curd formation by sticking a long, flat knife into the milk. If it comes out clean with no residue, the milk is ready. If there is some residue clinging to the knife, let the milk rest another 10 minutes.
Cut the milk into 1-inch slices. Let rest 5 minutes, then cut perpendicular to the first set of cuts, creating 1-inch squares.
Heat the curds to 100 degrees F, stirring the curds every 3 to 5 minutes with a long-handled metal spoon. Do not let the temperature rise more than 106 degrees F at this stage. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes.
The longer the curds are cooked, the drier the cheese will be. Akawi cheese is fairly moist, so cook for only 20 minutes for a classic akawi cheese.
Remove the pot from the stove, cover and let the curds rest 5 to 10 minutes. The curds will have sunk to the bottom of the pot, and there will be a cloudy layer of whey on top.
Line a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth. Carefully ladle the curds onto the cheesecloth, allowing the whey to drain into a large mixing bowl.
Tie the cheesecloth so that it is wrapped completely around the curds, with no excess cloth. Place the cheesecloth-wrapped curds into a square or rectangular plastic container.
Place a square piece of plastic mesh over the cheesecloth, along with two cans of beans, and store in the fridge. Let rest at least 24 hours. Reserve 1 liter of the whey in a separate container and store in the fridge.
Unwrap the cheesecloth from the pressed cheese and store the cheese, after rinsing with water, in the reserved whey. The cheese will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
For a saltier akawi cheese, rub the outside of the cheesecloth with 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt before weighting and resting the cheese.
To give the cheese a stronger, more acidic taste, increase the amount of vinegar used by 1 tablespoon. Changing the type of acid will also affect the flavor of the cheese. White wine vinegar or lemon juice produce a more delicate tasting cheese, while apple cider vinegar will produce a stronger tasting cheese.
For longer storage, and a stronger tasting cheese, boil the reserved whey with a 1/2 cup of salt. Let cool and store the cheese fully submerged in the brine. The cheese will keep for several months in the fridge when stored in brine.