Saag Paneer, an Indian spinach and cheese dish, is in regular rotation in my household — served with a side of dal and rice, it is so easy and healthy! Here is my blog post about it with the recipe.
But the one problem is that purchasing a block of commercially-made paneer from the store is so expensive. Luckily, this Indian version of fresh farmer cheese is super easy to make — all for the cost of a gallon of milk and a few lemons.
So given it’s simplicity, paneer was to be my first foray into cheesemaking. But even for those of you not interested in expanding your cheesemaking repertoire like I am, I encourage you to give this a try — it’s pretty difficult to screw up, and doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes of active preparation.
These instructions are from Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll. Note that this recipe below yields 1.5-2 lbs and we halved it without any issues. Starting with just a half-gallon of milk ended up with the perfect amount of cheese for one dish, but if you have extra, it will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Also note that while butter muslin would work best for straining the cheese, it is not readily available everywhere — you could try using multiple layers of cheesecloth, or even just a thin dish towel. Butter muslin can be purchased cheaply online, however, and is machine washable and reusable.
1 gallon whole milk
8 Tablespoons lemon juice
Directly heat the milk to a gentle rolling boil, stirring frequently.
Reduce heat to low and, before the foam subsides, drizzle in the lemon juice and cook for an additional 10-15 seconds.
Remove from the heat and continue to stir gently until large curds form (if the why is still not clear, return to heat and increase the temperature a bit, or add more lemon juice).
When you have a clear separation of the curds and whey, allow to set for 10 minutes.
Once the curds have mostly settled below the whey, ladle them into the muslin.
Now, the cheese needs to be drained of the remaining whey: either tie the muslin together and hang to dry on a spoon laying across the colander, or leave the cheese at the bottom of the colander, wrapping it entirely in muslin and placing a five-pound weight on top. I just filled the empty jug of milk with water until the scale said it was five pounds.
Let it sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours, less if you are using the weight method.
Without a cheese press, you can’t get a nice, neat block of cheese as you see in the store — it will look more crumbly, like feta. It will also be slightly less firm than store-bought paneer.
But, the texture and the mouth-feel were pretty much the same!
On its own, paneer doesn’t have much in terms of taste but it picks up the flavors of recipes very easily — and so it works great in a dish like saag paneer. I just broke off little pieces and tossed it into the pan.