One of the simplest cheeses you can make at home is paneer. Paneer is a style of cheese made in India that uses the acidity of lemon juice to curdle the milk. It is a plain tasting cheese that takes well to a variety of sauces and spices. It’s good as a snack when drizzled with honey. Indian cooks use paneer in a variety of dishes such as the popular staple of Indian restaurants, palak paneer. Cut your finished product into cubes, brown in butter (or ghee), and combine with your chosen sauces or accompaniments.
Adapted from Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi
Makes about 12 ounces of cheese. Use immediately, or keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.
1 gallon whole cow milk (avoid ultra-pasteurized)
8 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (or lime juice or white vinegar)
1. Heat milk in large pot until boiling, stirring occasionally to avoid scalding. (Be careful—once milk boils, it foams and makes a mess quickly.)
2. Turn off heat. Add lemon juice and stir. The milk solids should start to separate almost immediately. Once fully separated (1-2 minutes), cover and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.
Separate Curds and Whey
3. The process is complete when the whey is yellowish and clear. If the whey is cloudy or milky, allow extra time for further separation. If necessary, add additional lemon juice in very small amounts.
4. Line a colander with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth and place colander in the sink. Gently scoop the curds out of the pot and place into the lined colander.
5. Once you’ve transferred the curds, pick up your “bag” of curds and rinse around the outside to wash away any residual acidity. Note the texture and taste the curds—they should be light, fluffy, and taste pleasantly of dairy.
6. Draining can be accomplished in a variety of ways—by tying the curd bag to your kitchen faucet or by placing the lined colander in your kitchen sink and letting gravity work its magic. For quicker draining, place a moderate weight on top of the draining curd (a bowl of water works well).
7. Drain until the consistency is to your liking—time will determine the texture of the finished product. Generally speaking, drain at least 1 hour and up to 5.
All photos by Tami Parr. Tami is the author of Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, an online chronicle of all things artisan cheese.