When I was growing up, our refrigerator was always home to lots of questionable odds and ends lurking at the back of the shelves: half-empty jars of duplicate jams; tiny containers housing a forkful or two of aged leftovers; cheese sporting unintentional mold; a jumbo-sized squeeze bottle of Heinz ketchup that moved with us from house to house, its cap slowly scabbing over with tomatoey goop.
In college I would sometimes return home for Chanukah or Christmas (we celebrate both) and open the refrigerator to find the month-old remnants of Thanksgiving dinner still biding their time.
It was like the place where good food goes to die.
To be fair, there were often some good surprises in there too, but that refrigerator is probably one of the reasons I now have a visceral dislike of food waste. So when I recently ended up with a massive glut of whole milk, I knew that leaving it to moulder in the chilly confines of the fridge wasn’t an option.
It turns out, however, that using up large amounts of milk in a short amount of time is actually not that easy. I made a big batch of yogurt, two kinds of ice cream and even boiled some down into a cows-milk version of cajeta.
In the end, making paneer turned out to be by far the best way to plow through the excess.
A batch of paneer requires only two ingredients and a few minutes of active time. It also freezes well for later use and — of extra importance to me — uses an entire half-gallon of milk.
This unassuming fresh cheese is common in much of India and a staple of many of the North Indian dishes on restaurant menus in America. It has the texture of firm tofu and a mild flavor that provides a nice counterpoint many complex and often spicy Indian dishes.
But even if you aren’t a fan of Indian food, this paneer might find a welcome home in your kitchen. Use it in Latin American recipes in place of queso blanco. As far as I can tell, the two are virtually the same.
The process for making paneer is straightforward. It’s similar to making yogurt but even easier because the fresh cheese doesn’t need time to ferment and there’s no need for a thermometer.
You can be well on your way to producing actual, homemade cheese in less time than it takes to read this post.
What are you waiting for?
Adapted from "The Indian Vegetarian" by Neelam Batra.
This two-ingredient recipe calls only for milk and a souring agent, which causes cheese curds to form. I used yogurt for it's neutral flavor, but vinegar, lemon juice and buttermilk also work, however, the amounts needed will vary.
The only special equipment you'll need, if you can even call it that, is cheesecloth, but a clean, thin dishtowel or square of muslin would probably work just as well.
- 1/2 gallon milk (I used whole milk, but 2% works too)
- 2 cups plain yogurt (I eyeballed this and actually probably used a little less than the recommended amount with no ill effects)
Line a colander with a triple thickness of cheesecloth and set in the sink or a large bowl.
In a large pot bring the milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir frequently to keep from scorching.
When the milk begins to boil, stir in the yogurt and watch for curds to form. You may need to lower the heat a little to keep the milk from boiling over.
The remaining liquid will turn a translucent greenish yellow (that's the whey).
Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon to skim off the curds and transfer the to the cheesecloth-lined colander. When all of the curds are in the colander, tie the ends of the cheesecloth together and hang from the faucet to drain for five minutes.
Gently twist the top of the cheesecloth bundle to squeeze out any excess liquid and then set the bundle on a salad plate with the knotted end off to one side. Top with another plate and then place a large can or other heavy object on the second plate to press the cheese into a thick, roundish disk. Let sit for 10-12 minutes.
Undo the cheesecloth bundle and remove the disk of cheese. Slice, cube or crumble as desired. Paneer will keep in the refrigerator for a few days or longer in the freezer, though its texture may change a little.