Succumbing to Paneer Pressure

August 11, 2009 at 12:12 am 4 comments

Whole milk curdled with lemon

Whole milk curdled with lemon = delicious paneer

I had never planned on making my own paneer because I worried that curdling milk would turn me off of cheese forever — and that would be a travesty. But Jeff & Jon (my food guinea pigs) are paneer fanatics of the first degree.  So I figured, why not?

The first thing I learned is that much like with yogurt, paneer involves going against everything intuitive about dairy.  Basically, you take a half-gallon of whole milk and spoil it (although trust me, you don’t want to try this with old milk). You gradually add lemon until it curdles, squeeze out the extra water, form it into a brick, and add it to a delicious Indian dish.  Yum.

Also like yogurt, the paneer ends up sitting outside for a couple hours before it’s ready to be refrigerated.  So I wasn’t especially surprised when I read that cheesemaking in general dates back to before recorded history (and therefore, before refrigeration).

Paneer under pressure

Paneer under pressure

Start to finish, the paneer-making process took me about 3 hours — but that included leaving it under a cast-iron skillet for 2 hours.  All in all, it cost me about $3 — half the cost of the same quantity bought at the store.  Here are a few tips I learned:

1.) Use whole milk.  It’s tastier.  (FYI, no, I haven’t lost weight since I started this project).
2.) Knead the paneer a bit before forming the brick — it’ll be less crumbly.
3.) Rinse the paneer out once it’s set to get rid of the lemony flavor.
4.) Use at least a half gallon of milk — the yield will be lower than you think.
5.) Save a cup of the whey and use it next time instead of lemon to curdle your paneer.

Still, I have to say, my paneer still didn’t taste as good as my mom’s … or her friends’ for that matter.  But maybe the trick to making Aunty-grade paneer lies in getting your hands on some of their whey.  They’ll be honored, guaranteed.

Hot paneer!

Hot paneer!

Even though my paneer turned out a little crumbly, it fried well and held together when I tossed it with some spices and peppers.  Of course, Jon was especially gentle while frying the paneer, so the credit goes to him.

Next time,  I might try our friend Toby’s suggestion and use some vegetarian rennet — apparently it helps form the curds much faster.  If I were a hardcore foodie, I’d try it with regular rennet (an enzyme that comes from animal stomachs).  But I don’t think I’m there just yet … for now, I’m just taking it one dish at a time.


Entry filed under: Dairy, Indian Food, Preparation. Tags: , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amy  |  August 13, 2009 at 6:03 am


    This is Amy, Margaret’s roommate. I was so excited to hear about what you’re doing, and I’m really looking forward to reading your blog! What an awesome idea!

    • 2. shiwanis  |  August 13, 2009 at 2:18 pm

      Hi, thanks! I definitely hope to have you guys over for dinner soon 🙂

  • 3. Rachel  |  August 13, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    This is an awesome idea! I’ve been thinking about doing a month with no “natural or artificial flavors”

    Here’s a little more about the cheese-making with vegetarian rennet that Toby mentioned:

    That was my post about making an aged cheese – you can do fresh mozzarella using the veggie rennet in about 45 minutes. Maybe I’ll bring the supplies over sometime and we can make that while Jeff’s roasting a chicken 🙂

    • 4. shiwanis  |  August 13, 2009 at 7:28 pm

      Thanks, Rachel! I would absolutely love to learn more about cheesemaking from you. And I have to say, one of the things I’ve been missing most so far is cheese (just because you don’t really get immediate results), so having some mozzarella around sounds pretty heavenly right now…


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