Similar to a mesh cloth, cheesecloth is made from loosely woven undyed cotton gauze and is a very helpful material in cheese production. Although this delicate fabric has many other uses, cheesecloth is primarily used as a straining device. For example, when making soft cheeses, cheesecloth can be used to separate liquids from solids, and it is also used for clarifying soup stock, making tofu and pressing yoghurt for a thicker consistency. Several different materials can be used as cheesecloth substitutes to assist you in your culinary projects.
Look in your cupboards for tea bags. Due to its porous properties, the average tea bag can be used as a substitute for cheesecloth. Gently pull off the string, open the bag and empty out the tea leaves. Of course, tea bags tend to be quite small, so alternatively, you can purchase empty tea bags that are used for your own loose tea leaves. These are often bigger and heftier.
Use an old pair of pantyhose that have been tossed aside due to holes or runs. After a thorough washing, find a section of the pantyhose that is not torn. You can use the foot or another section that can act as a secure sack. Fill the pantyhose with the cheese, yoghurt or other food you wish to strain, and bunch the open ends tightly in your hand.
Pillowcases or sections of bedsheets will also do the trick. It is best to use one corner of a pillowcase to pack in the food, making a point to create more pressure when straining. If you decide to use bedsheets, cut out a modest square section, place the food in the centre and, just as with the pantyhose, bunch the open ends in your hands, making sure you have enough fabric as a handle to avoid leaks from the top.
You can also use coffee filters instead of tea bags. The material is similar and works to strain food substances in the same way.