Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paneer so Fresh it Tastes Homemade

Camembert? Non! Much easier to make than camembert, or probably any other cheese for that matter, paneer is the simple and tasty cheese found in many Indian dishes. All you need to make it is whole milk and some kind of food acid (lemon juice, vinegar, or left over whey from a previous batch of paneer). For this reason paneer is refered to as an "acid-set" cheese. Other, more familiar cheeses, are typically made from rennet (traditionally made from cow stomach) and therefore called rennet-set cheeses. We made some paneer the other night. Here's how you might do it in the comfort of your own home:

Pour some whole milk (we used a half gallon) into a large (preferably thick bottomed) pot and slowly bring to a boil.

The milk will burn on the bottom of the pot if you don't stir regularly or if the heat is too high. So look out!

As the milk comes to a boil it will start to rise rather quickly and will overflow if you don't quickly remove it from the heat. At this point you add the acid (I like to use vinegar) and stir slowly. How much acid you add depends on the quantity of milk used. For half a gallon, I probably use a few tablespoons. Add it slowly while stirring and once you see the curds (the solid part) separate from the whey (the liquid part), you know you've added enough acid.

Continue stirring and press the solid curds to one side of the pot. Now you can strain the curds using a fine mesh or a cheese cloth. This is what you should be seeing:

I usually save the whey to use in place of water the next time I make rice. It gives it a tasty, slightly milky flavor.

Now we need to drain the remaining liquid from the curd. I like to take two identical containers (usually round and not too large) and place the curd in one, and the second on top of it, pressing to force out the liquid. Then you can place something heavy on top of the whole thing to press it down longer. Occasionally pour out the liquid that has collected. I like to let it sit at least 2 or 3 hours before using it. The longer you press it, the less crumbly, more solid, it will be. Now you are ready to use it however you like.

When I put it in a curry, I like to fry it in some oil or butter with some spices first. Here is how much we made from half a gallon of milk and how it looks as part of the delicious palak (or saag) paneer we made:

Just found a cool website about cheese-making, maybe we'll try to make some other kinds of cheese in the near future:

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