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Recipe: Homemade Cheese (Paneer)

This recipe comes to us from 2019 Hazon Food Conference Presenter Regina Mosenkis.

Recipe from What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen by Divya Alter (Rizzoli, 2017)

Paneer is freshly made, soft cheese or curd; it is the simplest kind of unfermented cheese and, really, the best cheese to eat. The quality and freshness of the milk will determine the quality of the paneer. You must use whole milk, as the higher the fat-content of the milk, the richer the cheese. Raw milk is the best; low-fat or skim milk are worse, resulting in very little or no cheese.

Different curdling agents will produce different types of paneer. The best curdling agent from an Ayurvedic perspective is fresh yogurt or buttermilk; the next best is fresh lime juice. You may also use fresh lemon juice, citric acid crystals dissolved in water, or sour whey from a previous batch of curd cheese. Each curdling agent gives a slightly different texture and flavor of the curd.

That is why paneer could be somewhat unpredictable; how it turns out depends on the quality of the milk, sourness of the curdling agent, the temperature, etc. Do not panic! The more you practice making cheese, the more you will learn to control these variables to suit your preference. Simply follow the basic procedure described below and adjust the details until your paneer is ready.

Paneer is extremely versatile. It combines well with salads, vegetables (especially the cruciferous type: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), and leafy greens.

Yields approximately 3/4 cup of cheese

Ingredients

  • 4 cups Milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons Fresh lime juice

Preparation

  1. Take a heavy-based saucepan big enough to contain the milk and leaving 3-4 inches of room for it to foam and boil. Add water to the saucepan just enough to cover its bottom—this magic trick will protect the pot from getting crusty and it will ease your cleaning afterwards. Pour the milk and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. (Cooking it on high heat often causes the milk to scorch and stick.) If you covered the pot bottom with water, you do not need to stir. If you forgot that step, then stir occasionally. Have your lime juice ready; stay around and keep an eye on the milk. It is so easy for us to get distracted and to let the milk overflow into a kitchen cleaning nightmare.
  2. The moment the milk starts to boil, reduce the heat to low and add the lime juice or other curdling agent. Stir gently until the milk curdles. This is what you are looking for: the milk has to transform into clumpy curds and yellowish whey. If the liquid still looks milky white, it has not fully curdled yet, so add more lime juice and stir until the whey clears. Turn off the heat.
  3. It is ideal to place the saucepan of curds and whey aside and let it rest covered for 10 minutes. When the curds are settled under the surface of the whey, they are ready to strain. If you do not have that time, go to the next step.
  4. Now you have two straining options, depending on what form of cheese you need: a) For making soft crumbled cheese: Pour or scoop the contents of the pan into a mesh strainer (no cheesecloth needed) and let it drain until the desired consistency. b) For making pressed cheese that you can later cut into cubes: Pour or scoop the contents of the pan into a colander or mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, gather the corners, and hold the bag of cheese under lukewarm water for 5-10 seconds to rinse off the cutting agent (be careful not to burn yourself). Bundle the cheese, gently twist the cloth to squeeze out the excess whey; place on a smooth flat surface, and press it with something heavy, like a pan or pot. In my kitchen when pressing bigger quantity of cheese, I usually insert the cheese bundle between two cutting boards and then I place a cast iron pan to rest on the upper cutting board. (That’s another version of a cheese sandwich!) For smaller quantity, you may place the bundled cheese in a colander and press it with a full bowl of water or another heavy weight. Press until the cheese is firm enough to hold itself but still soft and spongy. For 1-2 cups of cheese pressed with a cast iron pan, it should not take more than 20 minutes. Do not leave the cheese pressed for too long because then it will become hard to eat and digest.
  5. Congratulations, you just made a block of fresh cheese! Unwrap it and use as directed in a recipe.

To store: It is best to consume paneer right away, but you may also put it in a zip lock bag or a closed container and refrigerate it for up to 3 days.