DIY Paneer

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Because Cheese.  Cheese is IMO one of mankind's greatest inventions, without which we could not have a proper pizza.  Also, wonderments like grilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, or indeed at least 1/3rd of my recipes would not exist at all.

This one is a basic cheese that doesn't require a bunch of fancy stuff, nor does it require having someone on the internet send you bacteria in the mail.  It's also pretty flexible, and you can go anywhere from a slightly firm cheese (like what we're doing today) to a classic "cottage cheese" depending on what you do with it at the end.  Also, if you fry it, it's pretty freaking awesome.

 

Paneer

The core of cheese is moo juice.  The higher the fat content the better. I don't know about where you live, but buffalo milk isn't carried by the local supermarket, and unless you know someone that owns a cow, raw milk is not really an option either.  So, we're going with a higher-end whole milk.  The less pasteurized is also for the better, as the super-duper pasteurization breaks down all the stuff we need to make cheese with.  

My experiments in the past haven't worked out so well, and I think that part of it has been that I haven't been making enough cheese.  Not Enough Cheese is like the worst Vegas lounge act name ever, and it's no way to go through life, so I should have known better.

Which means we're going to need a bigger pot.  I grabbed my biggest pot that wasn't a skillet, and apparently it's a 4-quart pot.  I don't know about you, but I've found that putting a gallon of milk in a 4-quart pot is contra-indicated.  I ended up with my smallest stock pot (16 qts?) which happens to be roughly the right shape- on the narrow side and deep.

Into the pot, chug out that gallon of milk.  Turn on the pot to a medium-ish heat and let it heat up slowly, and stir regularly, up to around 180F.  Slowly, because it's important to not let it boil- and too fast means it just boils on the bottom and you don't know it.  No Bueno.

I think the whole heating process for me took around 1/2 hour, possibly a little more.  I have a candy thermometer, but I'm really starting to get sold on using the same instant-read thermometer that I use when I'm on the grill.  But, watch, stir, check to 180F(ish).  Once that's been attained, turn the heat down a little and let the milk coast up to 185-190.  But again, don't let it boil.  If you do it right, the 'coasting' should take 5-10 minutes more.  If it takes a little longer than that, it's okay.  If you're watching it, somewhere close to 180F it'll start to film over.  Stir that in, wait, stir again, etc.  But you should have already been stirring regularly like I said.

And contrary to anything that makes any sense whatsoever, let it cool again.  The target here is around 170-175F.  I think that the science is something like we've relaxed the proteins but brought them down to something that will coagulate, but I'm not sure I fully understand what that means.

Time for the coagulation…nation (couldn't find a pithy word that rhymes with 'coagulation' sorry) which whatever, it's time to start making actual cheese happen.

For this, I've switched to citric acid.  It's not all authentic-like, but it's easier to control than something like lemon juice.  Science is all 2% solution and some kinda pH, but in human-readaeble format, a heavy teaspoon to about one cup of hot water.  The hotter the better, but don't bother doing any more than as hot as your tap gets.

While stirring some more, add (don't dump) in the citric acid solution, and mix it in well.  

And suddenly, stop stirring.  Let what you've wrought sit for 15-20 minutes.  You'll start to see the curds form and resist the urge to do anything more than gently poke it with a stick spoon.  What you don't want to do is break them up for some science reason. After it's rested, you should have a clumpy bit floating in greenish clear liquid.  If the liquid is cloudy, heat up the mix just a little, add a hair more citric acid and – very carefully – stir that in without (again)  breaking up the clump.  Doing this means even more cheese, so it's important.  If you need to do this part, let it sit a little longer.

So, we almost have cheese.  What we have is cheese in green soup, and nobody wants that.  Line a colandar with butter muslin (cheesecloth isn't cheesy enough unless you use eleventy layers) and slowly tip the pot into the colandar.  Let that drain for a while, maybe 10-15 minutes.  It'll look like something like this, but more of it:

Paneer curds in the colander

Paneer curds in the colander

Sprinkle in a maybe 1/2-1tsp salt, and if you want to add anything else, now is the time.  2nd or 3rd time out you'll want to start experimenting with herbs and stuff, and this is the point of no return.  Tip the stuff around a bit to mix it in, but don't put your fingers in it. 1st-degree burns don't scar, but they still smart a bit.

Not that you're not going to singe your hands a little anyway.  The next step is getting more juice out- gather up the cloth and twist the curds into a ball as tight as you can, getting as much liquid out as possible.

If you want 'cottage cheese', put down your pencil and close your copybook.  Reopen the ball and let sit until it's the texture you want.

For the rest of us, let us press on.  Either let the ball hang (preferable) over the sink from something, or let the ball rest in the colandar for a while, until it's not drippy.

Then, we'll actually press on.  To make a good paneer, we need to get as much liquid out, and compress the curds as much as possible.  This basically means tipping the cheese  out onto a flat thing, putting another flat thing on top, and adding heavy things on top of that.  I still haven't found the perfect flat thing, as is apparent by the photo at the top (all the stuff in the middle is good, the rest is crumbly) so if you have better ideas than plates, I'd love to know.  But for the weight, I used my biggest cast iron pan to give you an idea.

The longer you press, the better, I think.  I let the last batch go for about two hours, and it was pretty good.  But, I then put the sandwich into the fridge (with a 12-pack of Coke on top) overnight, which I think really, really firmed everything up.  So next time, I'll be making cheese in the AM, and drain and fridge through the afternoon until I'm ready to use it.

And that's it, really.  If you herbed it up back when, you can serve it with stuff as-is.  If you didn't, you can still bring out the best by combining it with other foods.  It's also really, really (did I say really?) good fried in butter with a sprinking of whatever on top.

Now, you can say you've made cheese!  Blessed are the cheesemakers!

 

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