Have you ever made your own cheese before? Neither had I until I tried my hand at paneer a couple of weeks ago. My family was gone and I had a fridge full of dairy products that I was not going to consume on my own. I don’t drink milk – not even on cereal – so I figured I should do something with it, rather than forgetting about it and dealing with a carton of sour, coagulated garbage a week later. Plus it was a great excuse to neglect studying and experiment with cheese instead.
So how does this whole cheese-making process work, you ask? Often when I think cheese, much of what comes to mind pertains to adding enzymes and various bacterial cultures, so you can let it age for months on end. Seriously though, where are you going to find that stuff? I had a hard enough time tracking down lye for my homemade pretzels. I am not lying (get it?) when I say that I actually got a prescription from my doctor and took it to the pharmacist (basically the only one in the entire city that actually carried lye). It got even more interesting when she asked why I needed it and I said “for making pretzels.” Not exactly the answer she was expecting to hear.
Anyways, luckily for us, you don’t need any crazy, scientific chemicals to make fresh, homemade paneer or ricotta cheese. I should probably talk about the 2 in reverse order – technically you get ricotta before you get paneer. It really is way more simple than you would ever expect. First you get yourself some milk and/or cream of various fat percentages. Whatever you have on hand will work, just keep in mind that the more milk solids in the product, the more cheese it will make. In other words, don’t use skim or you will end up with like 2 tablespoons of cheese.
Take your milk and some salt and heat it up. Once it boils, stir in the acid of your choice. Lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar; anything along those lines will work. You will see it immediately separate into curds and whey. This is exactly what you want. If it looks like white vomit, you are on the right track. Yummmmmy.
Then you strain it. Logically, the more liquid you drain off, the thicker and drier it will be. Stop here and you have yourself a lovely batch of ricotta. Taste it and add more salt if you want (I definitely did, it was a tad bland otherwise). Alternately, you can squeeze out as much moisture as possible and press it into a sliceable disk. Voila, paneer. Fry it up or drizzle some cubes with good olive oil and simply eat as is. Easy peasy cheesy.
- 6 cups milk and/or cream (I used about 5 cups of 1% milk and 1 cup of half and half, however you can use whatever you have. Just keep in mind that the higher the fat, the more milk solids there will be, thus the more cheese it will make. In other words, don't go lower than 1% or it won't make anything.)
- 1½ tsp. salt
- 3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar, lemon juice, etc.)
- Bring the milk/cream and salt to a bowl in a medium to large pot.
- Add the vinegar and turn the heat off. You will see it curdle almost instantaneously - this is good. Wait 1-2 minutes for the curds and whey to fully separate before straining the cheese in a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth.
- If you want to make ricotta, let it drain for 20-30 minutes, or until it reaches the consistency you want.
- For paneer on the other hand, allow if to drain about 20-30 minutes and then squeeze it out so that most of the moisture is gone. Wrap it up in the cheesecloth and shape it into a disc. Put it in a bowl or on a plate and put another bowl or plate on top of it. Then put something heavy on top (I used the bowl from my mortar and pestle) and press it for about an hour (refrigerated). Cut it into cubes and eat it as is, or fry it up until golden.
- Either way, the cheese will keep for 4-5 days refrigerated.