Paneer ... the Cheese of India


This is an easy cheese to make, so much so that it is usually made fresh daily in India.

Paneer is the most common cheese used in south Asian cooking and can appear in several formats, from crumbly and open textured, to a firm, well consolidated cheese for cutting.

It is a perfect cheese for vegetarians to use in cooking because it has no rennet used in the production.
Paneer is the most common cheese used in India's kitchens because of its clean, fresh, and versatile flavor, which lends itself well to an assortment of recipes.

The flavor lies somewhere between a mild Feta and Halloumi cheese. It is a little softer than Halloumi and a little less crumbly than most Feta.

In every sense, it is the perfect cheese to be made quickly in the home kitchen to add to spicy dishes since it does not melt.


Paneer is a soft cheese that changes a few quarts of milk into a great cheese for frying or using in a spicy sauce.

It is made by simply heating milk to just below boiling, holding for a few minutes while the proteins change,and then adding a small amount of acid to help the proteins and milk sugars to flocculate and settle.

The high heat and acid condition will make a cheese that can be easily sliced for frying, or cubed for spicy sauces, and yet does not melt with the heat.


More About Paneer:

The history of Paneer goes back in time perhaps before written history. The first recorded mention of this cheese was about 6000BC, but it was probably being made long before this.
It is believed to have been introduced into India by the invaders from Iran and Afghanistan.

The original process was to heat the milk to a temperature just below boiling and then soured milk was added for acid. Over many years, more palate friendly acids have come into favor; lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid or yogurt have made for a much more flavorful cheese.

Because Paneer cheese is made by using acid and heat (rather than culture and rennet) it is safe for vegetarians to consume and, in fact, Paneer is a cornerstone of Indian vegetarian cuisine.

Paneer is soft and it is most often eaten fresh, within a day of the date that it is made. Depending on how the Paneer is processed, it can be firm enough to cut into cubes and fry, or it may be softer and more crumbly.

A common characteristic of the cheese is it's mild character and it is most often made with no salt.
The fact that no culture is used in making Paneer presents another important and wonderful characteristic.. the sweet character of the lactose is left unchanged, but in heating the cheese, some caramel flavors do enhance the cheese.

The mild, unsalted, and sweet character of this cheese makes it ideal for pairing with the star ingredients of Indian cuisine... the Spices!


India is known for the incredible mix of spices that
go into curries, fried dishes, etc.

The amazing color, aromatics and flavors
of India's spices .. Oh Yes!

Today Paneer has even made a huge move into the fast food world of India and other countries.
In India, McSpicy Paneer Burger and Big Spicy Paneer Wrap present vegetarian customers exciting new protein options. An unbelievable 120-odd tons are required by the fast food chain every month.

In the United Kingdom, Subway has started serving a Saag Paneer patty and Taco Bell India serves the Paneer and Potato burrito; Pizza Hut, Dominos, and Papa Johns all have pizzas with Paneer toppings.


The Details for making Paneer

The process for this cheese is quite simple and easily done in the kitchen:
  • the milk is heated to make important changes to the milk proteins
  • some acid is added once the milk has been heated
  • the milk is then held quiet while the coagulation of curd develops
  • the resulting curd is then separated from the whey
  • this curd is then lightly pressed for the final cheese

Before you Begin:

You will need:

  • 1 gallon of milk (Not UltraPasteurized)
  • No culture is needed for this recipe.
  • No rennet either
  • Citric Acid
  • Salt is optional and usually not needed.
  • A good thermometer
  • A spoon or ladle to stir the milk/curds with.
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
  • You can simply consolidate the mold in the drain cloth after releasing the whey,
    but alternatively, you can use our Basket Mold or Small Mold-M3.
  • Draining mats to allow the whey to run off from the molded curds.

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.


Heating and Acidifying the Milk:

Buffalo milk was most traditionally used for this with its butterfat content of about 6%, but whole milk in the 3 - 4.5% range is commonly used today and much more readily available.

A low fat version using skim milk has been produced but has developed a reputation for being chewy and rubbery.

The milk used should be as fresh as possible; even cold stored milk has enzymes working at the cold temperatures to break down the proteins and compromise the milks flavor and ability to form a good cheese.

Begin by heating 1 gallon of fresh milk to 185--194F (85-90C).
You can best do this by placing the pot with milk into a sink of very warm water. If you do this in a pot on the stove make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.

Once the milk has reached the correct temperature, continue to hold the milk at this temperature for about 20-30 minutes. This will prepare the milk proteins to respond well to the acid addition in the next step.

While holding the milk, the citric acid should be mixed. Add 1tsp of citric acid to 16oz of 170F water. This is a very diluted acid of about 2%. This will be about the same temperature that we will be cooling the milk to.

Before adding the acid solution that you have prepared, allow the milk to cool to the same 170F temperature as the acid solution. This is a more protein friendly temperature and allows the acid to more easily be distributed throughout the milk before the proteins begin to coagulate. The result will be a more even curd development.


Curd Set with Acid:

The next step will be adding the acid to the 170F milk to begin the separation of the milk solids from liquid for your Paneer. Begin by adding the citric acid slowly to the milk with a slow stir. Continue the slow stir until you see a separation of white curd and a yellow green whey (higher fat milks may cause a cloudy whey).

Once you see a nice separation as in the photo here, stop stirring. The pot now needs to sit quiet for 20 minutes while the acid and heat do their work.

During this wait, prepare the sanitized cloth in the colander in preparation for curd transfer.
I always think it is a good idea to collect the whey for other uses, even if its only for the garden or compost pile.

Removing the whey:

At this point, the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey.

The dry curds can now be transferred to the colander lined with butter muslin. Begin by ladling the whey from the surface through the drain cloth. This will make for a quicker drainage.

Once the whey has been partially removed, the remaining curd can be poured into the drain cloth.

This should be allowed to drain for 30 minutes and a gentle stirring will make sure that the whey drains off.

Pressing:

Once the curd has been well drained, the cloth can be pulled up and tied as shown below to further drain the whey. Allow this to drain for a few minutes before opening the cloth. You will begin to see a much drier curd and the early Paneer, here but it is still quite crumbly.

Retie the curd in the cloth, making sure the cloth is pulled tightly around the curd mass.
Then place a plate or lid over the curd mass for distributing the weight.
Add about 1-2 gallons of warm water in a pot to the plate as shown for weight and allow the curd to be pressed for 10 to 15 minutes. The amount of weight and time for pressing will depend on how dry and compact you want your final Paneer to be.

Let us not forget all of that whey we have collected. It contains a lot of flavor and nutrients. It is great for use in stocks and soups and some folks have found it to be very tasty when cooled for just drinking. Taste it and see!

If nothing else take it to the garden or compost pile.


Aging:

The fresh Paneer won't last long in the fridge, so make sure you use it within a few days.

Many people think that because the milk has been heated to such a high temperature during the process, that it is stable for long storage. This is not true.

The problems with storing this cheese are two fold:

  • It contains a high level of lactose that will fuel any bacteria that it is exposed to during the post process.
  • Tests have found that the ambient bacteria that it is exposed to (not traditional dairy bacteria, so not good) will multiply several thousand times within a week.

It can be reasonably held at fridge temperature for up to 4-7 days with no salting and for 10 days to 2 weeks if lightly salted (2%) and packed in an air tight package.

When pressed the cheese will be firm and compact and once chilled can be easily cut into shapes for cooking or frying. Traditionally, Paneer is made fresh and used within a day.

In making your own Paneer, you have control over how you want to use the cheese.
The curd can be drained for a soft, crumbly cheese or lightly pressed for a firm slicing and grilling cheese.

By changing the cream content of the milk, the type of acid and the draining method, you can make a wide variety of cheeses.

Very fresh Paneer that hasn't been pressed for very long tends to be more crumbly and is best for sauces.
Very firm Paneer can actually be sautéed, seared, or grilled, and still retain it's shape and texture.




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