What Is Cheesecloth?
Plus, a few good cheesecloth substitutes.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Perhaps you've seen cheesecloth listed in a recipe and wondered what it is and whether or not you really need it. We get into why you do - but also give you some substitutes if you're really in a pinch and don't have time to buy some. Plus, a list of other handy uses for that cheesecloth when you do buy it.
What Is Cheesecloth?
Cheesecloth is a loosely woven, gauze-like cotton fabric used in the kitchen for a variety of straining tasks. It comes in a number of densities, determined by a thread count of 10 to 100. The
What Is Cheesecloth Made Of?
Cheesecloth is made from 100 percent cotton thread, woven in a simple basket weave pattern. It can be bleached or unbleached: white or beige. Just like sheets, cheesecloth has a thread count and it can range from 10 to 100 thread. Lower numbers are a more open weave, with fewer threads per inch, while higher numbers have a tighter weave and heavier weight. A looser weave allows liquid to pass through quickly, while a tighter weave takes more time but captures more of the solids in the cloth. The loosest weaves typically require several layers to keep the solids in and let the liquid drain.
What Is Cheesecloth Used for?
Cheesecloth is named for its most common use in years past: separating curds from whey when making cheese. Today we use it for a variety of tasks in and out of the kitchen: straining broth and draping it around windows for Halloween are just two that come to mind. Here are a few kitchen-exclusive ways we recommend.
- Straining: In the kitchen, straining is the most common use for cheesecloth. It’s especially useful if you don’t have a fine mesh strainer - or need to strain something even more finely than a fine mesh strainer will allow.
- Flour or sugar shaker: If you need a shaker for flour or confectioners’ sugar, you can create one with cheesecloth. Simply fill a mason jar with the flour or sugar, put the cheesecloth over the lid and use the ring or a strong rubber band to hold it in place.
- Herb and spice bundle: Instead of throwing a bunch of herbs and spices in a sauce or broth or simmered hot wine, and then straining the entire batch later, bundle the aromatics inside of cheesecloth and tie the package up with a bit of twine. Then simply fish out the bundle when you're done simmering.
- Fancy lemon juice wedge: You might have seen this trick at a fancy white tablecloth restaurant. Wrap a half lemon in cheesecloth and tie it with thin ribbon. When you squeeze the lemon, all the seeds stay inside. Plus, the parcel makes a pretty garnish.
- Make Labneh, thicken yogurt or drain ricotta cheese: Sometimes the holes in a strainer aren't fine enough. When draining yogurt or ricotta cheese to thicken it, for example, you'll need to line a strainer with cheesecloth so that just water drips out - nothing else.
Here are a few substitutes, considering cheesecloth's most important job in the kitchen is straining.
- Paper towels: The easiest option is high quality, thick paper towels. Dampen the paper towels before lining them inside your strainer to ensure all the liquid will run through (instead of absorbing).
- Coffee Filters: Paper coffee filters work just like paper towels. Wet them before lining your strainer.
- Fabric: You’ve got options when it comes to fabric. Muslin is often used, and you can buy a piece at any fabric store. A flour sack dish towel, a large men’s handkerchief or a bandana can also stand in.
- Medical Gauze: If all you need is a small piece of cheesecloth, you can use a gauze pad.
Is Cheesecloth Reusable?
Yes! Cheesecloth is reusable multiple times if you buy a thread count of 60 or above. We like to hand-wash cheesecloth in soap and really hot water and rinse it at least 6 times. Wring it out as much as you can and then air dry it: the oven handle is always convenient.
Where to Buy Cheesecloth
If you’re out shopping, kitchen stores, hardware stores and supermarkets are good places to look for cheesecloth. When buying cheesecloth, it’s worth to invest in the higher thread count. A thread count of 90 or 100 is best because it’s going to be the sturdiest. When the cheesecloth is sturdy you can reuse it many times. It’s really hard to wash the 10-count cheesecloth.
Recipe Using Cheesecloth for Straining
Greek yogurt, a pinch of salt and a dash of lemon juice drain overnight in a cheesecloth-lined colander and magically become labneh.
If you’ve ever over-whipped heavy cream, you’ve accidently ended up with butter. When you actually plan on making butter, you'll use a cheesecloth to separate the solids (the butter) from the liquids (the buttermilk).
When straining this chicken broth, three layers of cheesecloth turn a large-holed colander into a fine sieve that will give you clear broth.
You’ll get smooth, grit-free oat milk when you strain through cheesecloth after its spin in the blender.
Like our chicken broth, this bone broth will be clearer if you line your strainer with three layers of cheesecloth when straining it into small containers.