Persian For Cheese

I made Paneer today.  I’ve always understood it to be an Indian fresh cheese but learned today that the word “paneer’ is Persian for “cheese” and that the Indians learned a lot about dairy and cheese-making from the Persians.  So, there you go!

Making the Paneer was so easy it’s almost feels like a non-accomplishment.  It took more effort to get up the nerve to try it than it did to actually make it.  After reading about a dozen sites and watching a few YouTube videos, I found the info here to be the easiest to understand.

Basically, you get 8 cups of whole milk.  I used organic.  And then you need 2 to 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

(note:  I bought a bag of about a dozen lemons…I zested all of them and then juiced them.  I put a teaspoon of zest in each compartment of an ice cube tray, added water and put it in the freezer.  This way I’ll always have lemon zest on hand for dressings and marinades.)

Frozen Teaspoons of Lemon Zest

You line a strainer with a clean kitchen towel and a couple layers of cheese cloth.  I pinned the cheese cloth to the strainer to keep it being dragged down by the cheese mixture.

Then you heat the milk to approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit.  As soon as it starts to boil, turn off the heat and add your lemon juice.  I needed the full 3 tablespoons.  Stir continuously.  You will immediately see the whey begin to separate from the curds.  After a few minutes, pour the milk through the cheese cloth and let it drain.  Then draw together all corners of the cheese cloth, squeeze gently and place on a plate with a lip.  Place another plate on top and weigh it down with a few cans of something.  Wait about 20 to 45 minutes and Voila!  You have Paneer.

Paneer is a mild cheese that does not melt.  It does well with sauteeing and grilling.  I’m going to take one batch, cut it up and marinate it in sun-dried tomatoes, some Italian spices and some olive oil.  After a few days I will grill it and have it with fresh heirloom tomatoes and basil.  YUM!

UPDATE:

I tried it again the next morning and decided to make a few changes.  The first was to add some flavor using 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of fennel seeds.  The second was to use a thermometer when boiling the milk and the 3rd was to not press so much water out of it, leaving it a bit more moist.

I learned a few things by doing it again so I thought I’d post them:

  • I read on other sites by people who attempted to make paneer that often the milk boils over creating a mess on the stove and a yucky film at the bottom of the pan.  When I used the thermometer the 2nd time around I didn’t mind so much standing at the stove and stirring gently because I could see the progress of the heat rising on the thermometer.  It took about 20 minutes to get it just under 200 degrees.

  • Adding salt really helps!  I don’t like a lot of salt in my food but adding the flavors at the end, after the curdling is done but before you pour the mixture over the cheese cloth adds a lot of depth to the cheese.  Just remember when you’re cooking it that you’ve already salted it.
  • I liked both versions with different degrees of moisture.  The first effort was definitely more dense and is much easier to cut and eat like you would a piece of cheddar.  But the second effort, with more moisture, was nice as well.

I decided on fennel because I thought that it would add a nice flavor when grilled with some eggplant and added to a sandwich smeared with some super-smooth hummus.

I used whole fennel seeds and slightly ground them in my mortar and pestle to release the oils.  Then I combined them with the 1/2 tsp of salt and stirred  it into the  milk misture just before pouring it through the cheesecloth.

Here’s the fenneled product 😉

Fennel Paneer

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