Paneer cut into cubes
Everyone has their day dreams.
Mine begins at dawn with me stirring a vat of creamy white milk. Sleep still heavy on my eyelids, my face is flushed from the delicate tendrils of warmth rising from the freshly-milked liquid which not so long ago still resided inside the goats bleating just outside the barnyard door …
…bzztt … it’s back to reality.
I have to admit that I’m not obsessed with making cheese, just with the romantic notion of being a farmstead fromagier–living on a farm, raising some goats, and not having to pay through my nose for some yummy chevre, minus the cleaning of kaka and all that good stuff of course.
However, a chance meeting–in the form of a gentle sari-wearing lady named Sangita Chawila–got me very excited about cheese-making. Sangita showed me how easy it was to make paneer, the mild, creamy Indian cheese that makes its way into everything from saag paneer to paneer-stuffed tikis (potato cutlets).
With Sangita’s simple method, everyday non-cheese-making people like you and me can make cheese in under an hour! If you can boil milk and squeeze limes, you’re already a natural paneer-making machine. How cool is that?
Instead of lime juice, you can make paneer with lemon juice or vinegar. After draining, the paneer is crumbly like ricotta cheese and makes for a delicious snack with apples or bananas and sweetened with honey or sugar.
Makes: 5 ounces of paneer
1 quart whole milk
2 tablespoons lime juice (1 lime), or more as needed
In a large, nonreactive, wide-mouthed pot, bring milk to a gentle boil (the larger the pot the better so that the milk will not overflow). Stir often to prevent scorching at the bottom of the pot. If the pot starts to overflow, whisk it off the stove. Otherwise you’ll have a big, foaming mess and cleaning milk from inside your stove is no joke–I know!
As the milk starts to gurgle, watch diligently that it doesn’t overflow the pot!
Once the milk starts bubbling, add the lime juice and stir continuously for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the spongy white curds start to separate from the sea-green whey (just like magic!). If the curds don’t separate, or the whey isn’t clear, add more lime juice and keep stirring. It will happen eventually.
Curdling milk–not always a welcome sight but in this case …
Turn off the heat and let it rest for ten minutes to complete the coagulation process.
Paneer up close; can you see the sea-green whey in the background?
Pour the curds and whey into a colander lined with fine cheesecloth. Place a bowl beneath the colander if you’d like to collect the whey and save it for making roti, curry, or rice. (After this step, you can use the paneer in a recipe that uses crumbly cheese or eat it immediately.)
Drained paneer curds
Gently wring out as much whey as possible. Tie up the opposite ends of the cheesecloth and hang the bundle around the faucet and drain into the sink for 1 hour. With the cheese still wrapped in cheesecloth, flatten it to about half-an-inch thick and shape it into a disc or a square. Sandwich the cheese between a chopping board and a heavy book and leave for another hour.
Curds and whey or rather, whey and curds
Discard any remaining liquid and unwrap the cheese from the cheesecloth. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, cut it into 1-inch cubes and fry gently in oil, or use in your favorite recipe.
To make creamier paneer, you can add heavy whipping cream to the milk to make up for the cream/fat lost during processing of milk sold in the U.S.
If you can get unpasteurized, unhomogenized (i.e. raw) milk, all the better.
As grandma always says, please share!