In Praise of Paneer

"Wyatt. Stop eating the cheese! We have to press it." 

"But it's SO GOOD!"

While we were waiting for the Shankleesh, we decided we had plenty of time to make paneer according to the recipe in David Asher's The Art of Natural Cheesemaking (White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2015).

Paneer is a special kind of cheese that is made without animal rennet. Heat and acid are what allows the milk to curdle, and then those curds can be strained and pressed into a block of cheese. Because of the way paneer is made, it doesn't melt when you heat it. As a result, you can cook it in sauces or barbecue it, and it will hold its shape.

The first step in the recipe is to heat the milk to boiling (which would kill most of the beneficial bacteria in raw milk). We therefore opted for pasteurized milk in this recipe. This recipe also requires a cheese press, which of course we don't have. I learned from a little bit of research that cheese presses start around $200, so buying one is not a good option for us. There are also instructions available online so you can build your own, so maybe we can do that in the future.

Fortunately, the author suggested an easy solution to the cheese press problem: two empty plastic yogurt tubs. You punch holes in one of the tubs from the inside out, put your cheese in the tub with holes, and then you pour the warm whey into the intact tub, which you place on top of the cheese. The tub of warm whey helps to press out the rest of the whey from the cheese. As much as I try to avoid plastic, this was our best option for making paneer. Wyatt and I went out and bought the cheapest yogurt we could find, for the containers it came in, and took it from there.

Here's how we made paneer:

The recipe advises using fresh lemon juice, not bottled, which is my preference anyway. So we squeezed lemons, and then heated the milk. After the milk had boiled, we poured in the lemon juice and watched curds magically appear. We then gently transferred the curds from the whey with a slotted spoon into a colander, seasoned the curds, and set up our press on a rack, over a baking dish. The cheese sat in the press for a few hours, and it was easy to remove from the mold when it was time to eat it.

We tasted the paneer with and without salt, and we concluded that salt enhances the flavor dramatically. We added some herbs to fancy it up, and in the spirit of international cheesemaking, we went with herbs de provence. It tastes terrific.

We stopped by Rainbow today to tell Andy all about our cheesemaking and give him some of the paneer. Wyatt bounded over to him to give him his present, and Andy was so gracious. He remarked that he would bring the cheese to his cheese meeting in a few minutes to share with his coworkers. (No pressure there...)