Milky and dense, paneer cheese is a fresh, unaged cheese and it’s surprisingly easy to make at home. Here’s how in our step-by-step guide by food writer Malou Herkes.
Paneer cheese is popular across India and much of Southern Asia, where it’s often made from scratch, coated in spices and added to all sorts of delicious curries. And there’s a reason for that; compare homemade paneer with the shop-bought versions and you’ll find the former to be fresher, milkier and much, much tastier. And it’s surprisingly easy to make yourself. You need whole milk, a lemon and a cheesecloth, and one to two hours to let it set. That’s it.
First things, first. What is paneer cheese?
Paneer is a fresh, mild and dense cheese that doesn’t melt, so it’ll stand up to the intense spices of Indian-style flavours. It provides bulk and protein to a veggie curry, or teamed up with spinach in the creamy curry-house classic, saag paneer, or threaded onto skewers for a ‘meaty’ veggie kebab. You can also make a softer cheese by pressing it for less time – about 30 minutes.
Paneer is made by adding acid – in this case, lemon juice – to hot milk, which will cause the curds (milk solids) and whey (liquid particles) in the milk to separate. The curds are what will ultimately become cheese, once they’ve been drained and pressed.
The important thing to remember is to use whole milk as the high-fat content is what allows the curds and whey to separate. You should also be able to find a cheesecloth in any cookshop or haberdashery, but failing that you could use a quality handkerchief or a coffee filter. So let’s get down to it…
6 easy steps to homemade paneer cheese
Heat 1.5 litres of whole milk in a saucepan over a medium heat until it’s steaming and little bubbles appear on the surface, stirring occasionally.
Remove from the heat and slowly pour in 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (about 1 lemon), stirring continuously. Let it stand for 10 minutes to make sure the curds and whey have separated. If they don’t separate, try adding another tablespoon of lemon juice.
Line a sieve with cheesecloth, then set it over a bowl. Carefully pour the mixture into the sieve so the curds collect in the cheesecloth and the whey drains into the bowl.
Gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze out the excess whey – if it’s too hot you may need kitchen gloves for this!
Open it up again, sprinkle over ¼ teaspoon of salt and gently stir. Wrap up the bundle into a nice, neat package.
Transfer to a plate or keep it in the sieve if you think it still needs draining, then cover with a plate and top with a heavy weight – a couple of tins work well. Place in the fridge for about 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes to set, or about 30 minutes for a softer cheese.
And finally, paneer cheese! Use immediately or store in the fridge for up to 2 to 3 days.
And what your leftover whey?
Rather than throw it, bottle it in your fridge for up to a couple of days, and use it instead of water to bulk out soups, broths, stews and curries – it has a tangy flavour so add it gradually and taste as you go. Or use it to make bread or pizza dough.
Check out my guide to DIY dairy-free milks and homemade almond milk as well as how to make apple cider vinegar, an easy mayonnaise, gut-friendly kombucha, a traditional butter, creamy yoghurt, hummus and icing sugar at home in my DIY Pantry series.
Enjoy going back to basics? Try these all-natural kitchen spring cleaning hacks at home and meet the British charcuterie pioneers who’ve gone from hanging sausages in their sheds to taking on the world.
Or head to the larder for more store cupboard essentials.
This article was originally published in November 2017.