Today I’m going to tell you how to make a staples of Panjabi food – paneer (a soft cheese) at home. I also use full cream milk (that is 3.25% cow’s milk in Canada, and 12-13% fresh, unpasturized, buffalo milk in India), as you will find that this makes two slightly different but delicious paneer. Skim or low fat milk just don’t work the same and in fact, skim milk is unlikely to set into paneer.
The process for paneer is fairly simple.
Paneer will play a big role in many of the recipes to come. You can buy paneer in most supermarkets but there’s nothing like fresh, homemade paneer. I find the varieties of paneer available here commercially are very hard and some don’t product good results in traditional recipes. Commercial paneer, however, is economical (given that 1 L of milk will produce 55 – 60 grams of paneer), as is suitable for most applications.
Full cream milk (or 3.25% for those of us in Canada)
Coagulant: lemon juice, vinegar or curd (see tips)
Bring the milk to a slow boil, stirring to ensure it does not burn. When the milk begins to rise up the sides of the pot, add the coagulant 1 teaspoon at a time until all of the milk curdles. I find that 1 tsp is generally enough for 1 L of milk. Stir the curdled milk so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Take the pot off the heat and pour it through a piece of muslin or cheesecloth. The whey will drain into a bowl (save this) and the cheese curd will remain in the muslin. Wrap the muslin tightly around the curds, allowing the last bit of whey to drain into the bowl. Put the muslin package on a plate and then add a weight to the top of the package. I use a steel coffee pot that I’ve filled with water. Leave the package for 30 – 40 minutes and voila! You now have a block of paneer. Congratulations on your cheese making skills!
If you don’t have muslin or cheesecloth you can use a reasonably tightly woven kitchen cloth. Make sure it’s clean … I probably didn’t have to tell you that but you know – who wants their paneer tainted with whatever you just wiped off the counter?
Coagulants will flavour your paneer a little. I like the lemon flavour but if you don’t want any flavour at all, use curd.
The weight you use should be heavy. A large can of tomatoes, a stone bowl, or even a plastic bowl filled with dried beans will work. If it’s too light, the paneer won’t set nicely.
To keep the paneer lovely and soft, place it in a container and fill the container with water (like feta). Otherwise it can harden in the refrigerator.
Paneer will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator in an airtight container – the harder the paneer, the longer it seems to keep.
You can flavour your paneer if you want. Roasted garlic paneer I experimented with was awesome. Chili powder was also fun, as was fennel seed. Experiment! If you are going to flavour your paneer, add the flavouring after you drain the whey off the curds and before you pull the muslin tight.
Paneer is also known as farmer’s cheese or cottage cheese in India.
Save the whey. You can water plants with it or you can use it as the liquid in chappatis or even in rice or vegetable dishes. Paneer is a good source of vital proteins for people with vaishno diets, and conserving the whey for consumption is an important source of nutrients for our bodies (and it makes plants happy too). Whey will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
Don’t skim the fat that comes to the top of the milk during boiling. It will make your paneer richer and apparently keeps it soft.
You can make both curd and paneer from any kind of milk. In India, we use buffalo milk and here in Canada we use cow milk because that is what is available. However, you can use goat’s milk and you’ll end up with a cheese much like chevre or even sheep’s milk and you’ll end up with a cheese more like ricotta.
This process of cheese making does not use rennin, which is an animal product and therefore not part of a vaishno or vegetarian diet. If you are going to use a commercial coagulant for your paneer, be sure that you read the ingredients carefully and avoid rennin (assuming you’re here for a vegetarian safe recipe). Rennin is extracted from rennet, which is curdled milk taken from the stomach of a calf, lamb or goat that is still nursing. You have to kill the animal to obtain the rennet. Yeah, you wanted to know that didn’t you? How do you feel about that cheese with rennin now? I wonder who figured out and then first used rennin in cheese making? What was that thinking process like? The strange things I wonder about when it’s late…
Other terms for rennin are rennet or chymosin (which is the active enzyme in rennet/rennin) and is often listed on labels as simply microbial enzyme.
Until next time,
Peace and love all,