The Gluten Free Fromagerie: How to Make Homemade Paneer

paneerdish7.jpgI’ve always appreciated mottos like Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once, with the idea that the home chef really can (and should) attempt to create anything and everything edible under the sun. Of course, there are plenty of things that I don’t, and won’t cook, for various reasons- but still, I love the idea of trying six impossible things before (or after) breakfast. For some reason, cheese making had always seemed like an impossible thing to me. Millions of cheesemakers, both professional and of the home variety, would probably laugh at me- but the idea of me, a mere mortal, turning milk into something as cool as cheese just seemed impossible. But as I was thumbing through my copy of Bombay Cafe Cookbookand considering the bunches of spinach in my refrigerator, when I came across a recipe for Kashimiri Palak Paneer (Fresh Spinach with Homemade Indian Cheese) and saw that the recipe referred to a homemade paneer recipe, I thought “Why Not?” I usually just buy paneer at my local Indian market, but homemade paneer sounded delicious- and it somehow seemed more accessible than other cheeses. Of course a spinach paneer dish alone does not a meal make, so I also decided to make an Okra Mango dish and some basmati rice. However, for me, the meal was really about the paneer. But what is paneer, anyway?

According to Wikipedia, paneer is “the most common Indian form of cheese. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese that is similar to acid-set fresh mozzarella and queso blanco, except that it does not have salt added, much like hoop cheese. Another significant difference between mozzarella and paneer is the fact that mozzarella melts like any other cheese whereas paneer does not melt while cooking. Most paneer is simply pressed into a cube and then sliced or chopped, although Bengali paneer is beaten or kneaded like mozzarella. Paneer is one of the few types of cheese indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, and is widely used in Indian cuisine and even some Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine. Unlike most cheeses in the world, the making of paneer does not involve rennet; it is therefore completely vegetarian.”

Sounds pretty good, yes? So let me show you how I made my very first homemade paneer.

A Step by Step Homemade Paneer Recipe
step1.jpg step4.jpg I poured 8 cups of lowfat milk (1/2 of a gallon) into a pan that had been previously rinsed out with water. According to Neela Paniz, this prevents a milk skin from forming on the pan that can burn. I then brought the mixture to a boil, which was something like waiting for a kettle to boil, except worse. Once it finally came to a boil, I took it off the burner and slowly poured in 1 quart of buttermilk, whisking as I poured. At this point something really scary happened- the liquid separated into watery, yellow curd, and little white whey bits floating in the curd. At this point I was seriously concerned I would have a very un-cheesy flop on my hands.

step2.jpg Then, I prepared a colander by covering it with a thin muslin towel (not cheesecloth) and letting the ends of the towel hang over the edge. I slowly poured the liquid mixture into the towel bit by bit and squeezed the curds together in a towel repeatedly. I drained some of the whey into a bowl because it was threatening to overflow and then finished pouring the whey liquid into the towel.

step3.jpg Next I tied the edges of the towel together and squeezed the last of the liquid out of the lump of solids in the towel. Finally I left the wrapped up cheese somewhere where it could drain (on the top of an inverted strainer) and put a cutting board on top of the cheese with a pan on top for added weight. Thirty minutes later, the cheese was done.

step5.jpgstep6.jpg Somehow, magically and inexplicably, those little globs of white curds had knitted together to form solid, lovely cheese. I admired it in its whole form- imprinted, like good quality tofu, with the grain of the muslin cloth it was wrapped in, and then sliced it into lovely, cheesy wafers for my spinach dish.

While making paneer was time consuming and required a fair amount of preparation (buying buttermilk, and setting up an assortment of pots, pans, and bowls), it gave me a huge sense of accomplishment. Somehow I had taken the most basic of ingredients, milk and buttermilk, and turned them into a genuine food product. I now had a hardy, smooth block of cheese which begged to be grilled or simmered- a sturdy staple that could take any preparation method I could throw at it. While I may not make fresh paneer every time I get the urge to make a recipe, but will probably just buy it from the Indian grocery, I definitely have a renewed appreciation and understanding of it as an ingredient. The next time you have a surplus of milk in your fridge, why not try making your own homemade paneer? I promise that it will be the sweetest, and freshest paneer you’ve ever tasted in your own home.

Unsure about what to do with your homemade paneer? Check out this lovely alternate recipe for paneer, or this recipe for Paneer Jalfrezi in Ahaar: Pleasure and Substance. Or, for something truly original, try Goat Milk Paneer from Eat Like a Girl.

This post is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts on the gluten free fromagerie- I see homemade ricotta in my future, at the very least!


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9 Responses to “The Gluten Free Fromagerie: How to Make Homemade Paneer”

  1. Lovely! Homemade paneer is lovely & infinitely superior to shop bought. I’m lactose intolerant so made mine with goat’s milk: http://eatlikeagirl.wordpress.com/2007/05/30/some-amateur-cheesemaking-homemade-paneer/

    Like your blog. A friend is coeliac so I’m sending it to her :-)

  2. I couldn’t get hold of tofu today, so I made this in a much smaller quantity, and with skimmed milk. I suspect you get more paneer from semi-skimmed or whole milk, and there was a lot of whey, but it *did* work. I am now marinading it in jerk seasoning – Indian meets Jamaican, so to speak. Thank you for introducing me to this very simple successful approach.

  3. Hi Niamh,
    Welcome! Goat’s milk paneer sounds fascinating and unique- I want to try it sometime! Thank you for passing on my blog to your friend.

    Maeve- I’m glad the recipe worked for you. I used 1% milk myself, and it did create a lot of whey, but resulted in a decent hunk of cheese that was more than enough for one paneer based recipe. I could probably make two paneer dishes with this one recipe, if I skimped slightly on the paneer. Do you have a blog, Maeve? Your recipe sounds lovely.

  4. I don’t have a blog, but I am very grateful for blogs like yours: I have been coping with celiac disease for less than a year, so I am always on the lookout for ideas, tips, etc. I can’t digest meat any more and I could never eat cheese, but I can always manage fish, so I have quite a complicated diet! I had real problems eating safely during a recent visit to the US (why do there have to be wheat derivatives in yoghurt, of all things?), planning is everything, and if I am honest, the only thing I miss is Irish wheaten bread, and scones. On the plus side, I don’t think I would have tried mochi, had it not been for celiac disease preventing me indulging my weakness for egg custard tarts!

    The jerk marinade is a ready made preparation from Walkerswood, which goes well with fish, tofu, and of course paneer. Having just returned from a week in Antigua, everything will be Caribbean style for a while…

    Thank you for coming up with good ideas for everyday cooking.

  5. That cheese is just beautiful. The block of it sitting there sliced reminds me of fresh mozzarella in liquid I used to get for pizza. Or the curd cheese available on the north shore of the St. Laurence River in Quebec. It was so fresh it actually squeeked when you ate it. Good cheese is always that soft natural colour rather than the lurid orange they put in American and Canadian Cheddar. Congratulations on your accomplishment!

    I succeeded in making my first batch of fresh tofu yesterday(following almost the same method but with soy milk and lemon juice) and it was so easy. I turned it into an “un-cheese spread” with cumin, chili, and spices. It was good but needs a few more tweaks. I share your enthusiasm for making magic in the kitchen. You are an inspiration; I always get lots of ideas here for things I want to try. I made the tofu after reading about your paneer. :)

  6. Think this would work with non-dairy milks? LOL… guessing not. It’s the casein that coagulates. Drat.

  7. [...] Here at the Book of yum we had a recipe for homemade paneer a recipe for homemade corn tortillas and pico de gallo our first gluten free beer Recipe and a sublime recipe for roasted veggie pizza using Chebe Crust (Just trust me on the sublime thing.) [...]

  8. I am gluten intolerant and always looking for satisfying veggie food .Your recipe sounds great and a must do today.
    Can I freeze some.
    Now I have to search for paneer and spinach recipe cos I think it will be super as the amount of calcium in paneer and spinach is a lot.Can anybody help with gluten free chappatis or phoolkas to go with this.Thanks

  9. Hi Fawzia,
    Yes, you can freeze the paneer but it would probably be tastiest if you enjoyed it fresh.
    I have a simple millet roti recipe that you might enjoy:
    http://www.bookofyum.com/blog/gluten-free-millet-flour-recipes-bajra-roti-or-millet-flatbread-tortilla-4403.html

    Hope this helps!

    -Sea

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