Fermented Milk Products from All Over the World. Paneer (India)
Have you ever wondered how cheese is in India? Well, paneer is a type of cheese that can be found throughout the south of Asia, although it is preponderant to India. It is a fresh type of cheese that can be made rather quickly, as it doesn’t require aging. It has a soft and chewy texture and can be enjoyed almost immediately after preparation, fresh or cooked, as Indians love to add it in a variety of dishes, such as kebabs or pakoras. This cheese became so famous that it even managed to go beyond India’s borders and it is today available in the supermarkets of other countries as well, such as in the UK.
But the truth is that paneer can be easily prepared at home. You just need an acid food, like lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt, or citric acid, and milk in order to prepare paneer. The best milk to use for the making of paneer is whole milk, as there is the need for a decent amount of fat into the milk for the cheese to come out soft and not to break easily. Thus, skimmed, non-fat, or UHT milk types should be avoided, as your paneer will never come out right. In the worst case scenario, you can opt for pasteurized milk with a fat content of 2%, but do use whole milk if possible, in order to obtain authentic paneer. Why is the fat content so important? Well, the acidic foods we mentioned earlier, you will have to use only one of them, will separate the curd from the rest of the milk when mixed and boiled together. So, if the milk is skimmed and doesn’t have any fat, no curds will form during this process. If you use a half of gallon of fresh whole milk, then you will need a fourth of a cup of lemon juice, freshly squeezed, or vinegar. If you want more cheese, just double the quantity. Just do have in mind that paneer doesn’t last for too long in the fridge, so you will have to consume it within a couple of days, as it will spoil rather quickly. Thus, having this aspect in mind and the fact that you can prepare it fairly quickly, it’s best to make it in small quantities and consume it as soon as possible.
To prepare paneer, put the milk in a pot and place it on the stove, where you’ll have to heat it up. Use medium heat to bring the milk close to the boiling point, which is roughly 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to occasionally stir the milk, scraping the bottom of the pot to avoid it from scalding. When the milk heated sufficiently, it will have a steamy and foamy aspect. Now it’s the point when you have to remove the milk from the heat source. Add the lemon juice or vinegar while stirring the milk. You should see the milk curdling almost immediately, but don’t panic if it doesn’t. Continue stirring until it does. But, if several good minutes pass and nothing is happening, then the milk you used is skimmed. After mixing the acidic food with the milk, cover the milk and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes, allowing the curds to get separated even better. Once the 10 minutes passed, you should be able to see well-formed curds swimming in a watery yellowish liquid. If the curds are not well-formed, add another tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar, stir, and allow the milk to sit some more. If nothing happened after this attempt as well, then the milk very low-fat levels.
Once the curds are formed, you will have to strain them and remove the liquid, by using a large bowl and a cheesecloth. Place the cheesecloth over the bowl and pour the content over the cheesecloth, allowing the liquid to drip into the bowl, while the curds remain in the cheesecloth. Next, you will have to squeeze the curds with your hands to remove any remaining traces of liquid. For this, just bring the edges of the cheesecloth together and close it, squeezing the content. After this, you can season your paneer with a bit of salt, if you want. So open the cheesecloth and season your cheese according to your taste. To make the paneer easier to use, close the cheesecloth back and after placing it on a large plate, press the cheese into a rectangular form. When it’s ready, put it in the fridge and enjoy it.