This slightly late recipe post brought to you by the following sponsors:
- impromptu chicken chores, such as trying to outsmart our smartest escapee with yet another contraption of wires and bird netting. In the rain.
- tax season, now with small business ownership!
- my birthday this past Tuesday (I spent the day shopping for an adorable dress and wool socks, and eating a tasty pile of house-butchered local meat at an excellent local restaurant, instead of writing a blog post)
- my love of easy cheese (not to be confused with that travesty of a foodstuff, Easy Cheese)
Let’s talk paneer, briefly. Firstly, it’s a non-melting cheese, so it’s great for cubing, frying, and adding to saucy dishes. It’s a quick cheese – that is, it’s ready to eat within two hours, sometimes less (especially if you’ve made it before). And it’s probably the easiest cheese to make, next to ricotta – it’s the first cheese I ever made, and what made me realize that I could, in fact, make my own cheese at home. Crazy, right?
(Pssst – paneer, while familiar sounding for many Indian dishes, is also pretty much structurally the same as other cheeses in other cuisines, such as queso blanco or queso fresco, and can be crumbled and used in the same way.)
There are lots of different recipes for paneer, with varying ingredients, but like ricotta, you basically need three ingredients: good milk, an acid (such as lemon juice or vinegar), and salt. I’ve also made paneer with a mixture of milk and buttermilk with tasty results, but I’ll stick to the easiest one for today’s recipe.
Paneer is also nice because it’s hard to mess up, unlike some other cheeses. In order to get a crumbly, non-melting texture, the milk needs to be heated to a high enough temperature, and long enough, to capture a lot of protein in the curd. Meaning, if you “overheat” it (you boil the milk), or heat it for too long (it takes about 20-30 minutes), the worst you’re probably going to do is have a milk spillover on your stove, or burn the bottom of your pot, but you’ll still. Have. Paneer. Yay!
The one big difference, besides cooking time, with paneer, is the pressing. You don’t, however, need any fancy cheese presses or equipment to do so – heavy plates, skillets, and even canned vegetables work just fine.
A few reminders about making homemade cheese:
- Use the best milk you can get, preferably minimally pasteurized, for best flavor and results. The more the milk was heated for pasteurization before making cheese, the less likely you’ll get a good coagulated product. Also, it’ll taste like nothing.
- Use whole milk. Stop with that skim or lowfat nonsense. It won’t work for this cheese.
- Wash your cooking area and hands thoroughly. Even though this is a quick cheese, especially compared to, say, goat cheese, you still want a sterile work environment to prevent nasties from taking over your delicious food.
- The whey that comes from this cheese won’t have much in the way (hah) of protein, but it’s still useful for a few things if you save it: feeding livestock (our chickens LOVE it!), feeding acid-loving plants (such as blueberry bushes), or adding to bread recipes in place of water.
Mmmm’kay, paneer time.
This is an extremely versatile, non-melting cheese. Use it in Indian recipes, fry and salt it, crumble it over eggs or tacos, or just eat it. It’s good for you.
you will need:
- 1 gallon whole milk
- ½-⅓ c acid, such as lemon juice (fresh or bottled are both fine) or vinegar
- ¼ tsp salt
- Heat milk in a large pot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until it comes to a gentle boil, about 20-30 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat. While still stirring the milk gently, slowly drizzle the acid into the milk – like ricotta, the curds will pretty much immediately begin to separate from the whey. Continue to stir the curds gently until the whey turns a translucent yellow, about 1-2 minutes. Allow the curds to sit and cool in the pot, for about 10 minutes.
- Line a colander with cheesecloth or other tightly-woven cloth (my favorite, as always, is a clean do-rag that I use only for cheesemaking), and set the colander over another large pot or in the sink. Using a ladle or slotted spoon, carefully ladle as much of the curd as possible into the colander, then gently pour the rest of the whey and curds into the colander. Allow to drain for at least 5 minutes.
- Gather the curds in the center of the cheesecloth and gently squeeze any extra whey out (the cheese will still be wet, but it should not be swimming in whey). Open the cloth and stir in the salt. Tie the corners of the cloth together tightly over the cheese. There are many ways to do this, depending on the shape of your cloth – the key is to make sure the bundle is tight, with no air pockets, and holds the shape of the cheese well.
- Position a plate over a large bowl or in the sink, or even on top of a towel on the counter. Place the cheese bundle onto the plate, and top with another heavy plate. Place a heavy skillet, or several heavy cans, on top of the top plate, for pressing. Press for 1 hour. Unwrap, and enjoy! Yay, paneer!