Paneer might not be the most familiar term for a lot of people, but once you try it, you’ll love it. This Indian farmers’ cheese has a mild, fresh taste and a slightly crumbly texture that matches well with anything from curries to saag paneer (my absolute favorite spinach dish), and it even can go into desserts!
Even better, this is one of the easiest cheeses you could make. You don’t have to look all over for rennet, you don’t have to go through the process of cutting the curds, and you don’t have to wait any longer than an hour until it’s ready. One thing you will need to check for is the kind of milk you’re using. Whole milk works best, and you need to make sure it’s not UHT (ultra high temperature) pasteurized milk. Pasteurization at those high temperatures will change the protein structure of the milk and make it impossible for the milk to properly separate.
With this version, I’ve infused a little extra kick of flavor into the cheese with the addition of some herbs: basil, oregano, black pepper, and garlic are often used in Indian recipes, and the chives give it a little bit of freshness.
In addition to your favorite curries, you can also have as a tasty surprise in a quiche, eat it crumbled over a salad, or even use it as a substitute for queso fresco or ricotta salata. (Seriously, the recipes for those three cheeses are practically identical.)
If you want to give cheesemaking a shot, this is a perfect place to start!
Garlic Herb Paneer
1/2 gallon non-UHT whole milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 clove roasted garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp chives, chopped
In a large stockpot, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep the milk from scalding. When the milk looks steamy and foamy, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. The curds and whey should start separating immediately. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. The curds should be completely separated from the whey. If not, add 1-2 TBSP of extra lemon juice, cover, and let sit for a few more minutes.
Place 2-3 layers of cheesecloth into a colander placed over a large bowl, and pour the curds into the cheesecloth. The whey should strain out underneath. Wrap the cheesecloth into a bag shape, and gently squeeze out the extra whey. (The curds will still be very warm, so be prepared.) Reopen the cheesecloth, and gently stir in the garlic, basil, oregano, pepper, salt, and chives.
Use the cheesecloth to transfer the curds to a large dinner plate. Shape the curds into a rough square, and fold the cheesecloth neatly to form a rectangular package. Place another plate on top of the package, and place a 32-oz can on top of the plate to weigh it down. Press for 15-60 minutes.
Once pressed, the paneer is ready to eat! You can use it immediately, or keep it in the fridge for up to 2 days.