Making cheese is one of those things I’ve always wanted to try. As a baby step, I figured it might be best to start with a simple fresh cheese easily made from common ingredients and without need for complicated devices. Last night, I set to work making Paneer, a type of farmer’s cheese common in Indian cooking.
You’ll find many resources for making paneer, however FXCuisine provides easy to follow step-by-step instructions. I also referred to Anjum Anand’s cookbook in which she follows similar steps. My approach is a mix of both FXCuisine and Anjum Anand.
There are two ingredients to paneer, the milk and an acid. I used a half-gallon of whole (full fat) milk. For the acid, you can use lemon juice (2TB), yogurt (2/3 cup ), or vinegar (1tsp). I opted to use vinegar and depending on the strength of your acid, it may take a bit more. I used about a tablespoon of vinegar.
Begin by heating the milk over medium heat until frothy and nearly boiling. Stir in the acid which will cause the milk to curdle. It should take about 1 minute to occur. If it still hasn’t clearly separated, add small increments of your acid until the curdling occurs. I added nearly 1 tablespoon of vinegar before the milk fully curdled. The milk fats will fully separate from the water (whey) and you’ll have something like this:
Next, pour the milk mixture into a colander lined with cheese cloth or a clean dish towel. Rinse with cold water. Your cheese won’t look too pretty at this point, but instead resembles really wet cottage cheese.
Anjum suggests wrapping the curds in a cheesecloth and hanging from your faucet for 10 minutes to allow it to drain. Before hanging, I urged it along by tightly turning the cheesecloth to wring out as much water as I could. From this photo you’ll see the little something extra I did with this batch of paneer … do you see it?
After 10 minutes, give the ball of cheese another good twist then place the cheesecloth covered ball into the bottom of a colander. Cover with a plate and an added weight. I used a cast-iron pot on top of the plate. The weight will act as a press to remove additional moisture. Allow the cheese to be pressed for about 40 minutes. At this point, the cheese will be firm enough to slice and will retain its shape.
I wanted to play with the flavoring of my paneer. After I poured the curds into the cheesecloth to drain, I rinsed them with cold water as noted above. I then stirred in a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh cilantro. I figured it would get pressed into the cheese and create both flavor and visual interest. I think it worked:
The cheese is ready to eat. It is widely used in Indian stewed dishes since the cheese does not melt. In this way, it can be used similarly to tofu. I’ll show you tomorrow what I did with mine :-) The half-gallon milk made about 8-10oz or about 2 cups of paneer.
You can also use the cheese as an appetizer or snack. Simply drizzle with olive oil, cracked pepper, sea salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. The cheese is tender and somewhat bland on its own. The cilantro added just a hint of freshness and the added spices perked it up. It makes for a wonderful treat.