After almost a year and a half, I finally feel confident of my paneer-making skills. Paneer is fresh cheese common in South Asian cuisine. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice, vinegar, or any other food acids. Sometimes it is also called 'cottage cheese.'
In India, people just buy paneer from the grocery stores. Here, it is not only expensive but the Indian stores are a half an hour drive away. So it is usually more convenient to make it at home in bulk and freeze it in freezer-safe, zip-lock bags and then pull them out one at a time whenever needed. Here's the recipe:
Ingredients and Equipment:
1.75 gallons of whole milk (I buy the two 1-gallon cartons from Costco - cheapest option)
20 caps of vinegar
1 meter cheesecloth or muslin cloth
1 shallow colander
1 large pot
1. Take the largest pot you have at home, sprinkle some water into it (saves the milk from burning at the bottom) and pour all the milk you have in it. Now my pot only holds about 1.75 gallons of milk but if your pot can hold 2 gallons, go ahead and empty both your cartons.
2. Let it come to a boil. This will take a while.
3. While the milk boils, prepare the cheese cloth. If you have muslin cloth, you don't need to do anything but cheesecloth is a little different. I buy the cheesecloth at walmart and I try to put two pieces of cut cheesecloth together to make it more fine.
4. Then spread it in a shallow colander.
4. You have to make sure you are there when it first begins to boil because as soon as it starts to boil, we need to turn off the heat and pour in the vinegar immediately. You'll start seeing bubbles on the surface when it's about to boil. Sometimes I like to remove the skin that forms on the surface because there were times when the milk was boiling under the skin and I couldn't see the bubbling.
5. Either ways, as soon as the first boil happens, turn off the heat and pour 20 caps of vinegar. I usually sort of splash vinegar around into the pot but I wouldn't be able to explain how much vinegar I used. So this time, I measured the vinegar by pouring it one cap at a time until the milk curdled. It took 20 caps. Below is the vinegar I used. Just plain, old, regular. The vinegar bottle's cap is what I used to measure how much vinegar was needed. You can use lemon juice as well. Whatever floats your boat.
6. When you pour vinegar, make sure you pour it all around the milk and start stirring to see if it has curdled. When it separates, it'll look like the picture below.
7. You should be able to see chunks of curdled milk and water separately. That's when you know it is done.
8. Now put your prepared colander in the sink.
9. Slowly use a ladle to pour chunks of curdled milk into the cheesecloth. I wouldn't suggest pouring it directly from the pot because 1. the pot will be heavy, 2. the hot milk/water will spill everywhere and you might burn yourself, 3. from the pressure of the fall, the cheesecloth might move and you won't be able to strain all the milk properly. Eventually, once the pot is lighter, you can slowly pour all the liquid directly into the cheesecloth.
10. Now turn on the tap water and clean the milk. The reason we do this is to get rid of the sour taste of vinegar. Just pour some water, use your hands to clean the milk. Stir it around. If you have a shower tap, even better.
11. Now grab all corners of the cheesecloth and try to strain the water out as best as you can.
12. You may think that the water has been strained, but there is so much more. Lightly tie the corners of the cheesecloth. I always tie it too tight because I'm afraid it won't gain shape but my Mum-in-Law tells me to tie it lightly to avoid weird tie marks on the paneer. I haven't mastered that skill, yet. Put this cheese on a heavy flat surface. I used my marble that I make rotis on. You can use a plate or chopping block or whatever heavy, flat surface you can find.
13. Clean the pot you used to heat the milk and fill it with water to the top. Put the paneer and your plate in the sink and put the heavy pot over it.
14. This will push out all the water from the paneer and give it shape. To give you a better idea, I clicked a picture of it on my counter.
15. See how the excess water strains out? Do this is in the sink, though. You don't want liquid all over your counter. If you are using a plate, keep checking every once in a while and empty out the liquid from the plate. Let this heavy vessel sit on the paneer overnight or at least six hours for best results. When it is done, it'll look like a nice, solid block of cheese.
16. Carefully unwrap it.
17. See those tie marks? That's what you should be able to avoid if you wrap it lightly. I'm too paranoid to do that. Cut the cheese up with a very sharp knife. I think a bread knife works best.
18. Cut the pieces up to the size of your choice.
19. This is how much I made. Once you have your paneer pieces cut up, put them in freezer-safe zip-lock baggies in one layer. Don't overcrowd in one bag or the pieces will crumble.
20. I got five bags of paneer. Put the perfect cut ones in one bag and the crumbly misshaped ones in a separate bag. You can make paneer bhurji or paneer paranthha out of the crumbly/weird shaped pieces.
All done! If you plan to cook paneer the same day or the next day, put a packet or two in the fridge and put the rest in the freezer. Paneer out of the fridge can be used as it is. Paneer out of the freezer should either be cooked in a pan first or put in warm water to make it soft.
Homemade paneer tastes waaaay better than store-bought paneer. Try it!