Ready to eat in less than 2 hours, paneer is the quickest curd you can concoct. Mild-flavored paneer is typically added to highly seasoned Indian dishes, but it can shine in a multitude of recipes. It does not melt when heated. Don’t use colored vinegar unless you want colored cheese. Yield: about 1 3⁄4 pounds.
1 gallon milk (cow’s milk is traditional)
1/4 to 1/2 cup lemon juice or distilled white vinegar
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
1. Heat milk. In a heavy-bottom, nonreactive pot, heat the milk over medium-low to 195 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir continuously to prevent scorching. (If you don’t have a thermometer, heat until it foams but before it boils.) Remove from heat and stir to cool for a couple of minutes (to about 190 degrees).
2. Acidify milk. Milk separates into curds and whey when it is acidified. The warmer the milk, the less acidic it will need to be to separate. When the milk has reached the proper temperature, remove the milk from the heat and add the lemon juice or vinegar. Stir the acid into the milk a little at a time, pausing after each addition to check for curd separation. When the curds pull away from the side of the pot and the whey around them is mostly clear, you’ve added enough acid. When curds have separated, leave the pot alone for 10 to 20 minutes.
3. Drain curds. Line a colander with damp cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl or in the sink. Ladle curds into the cloaked colander to drain for 30 minutes. After draining 30 minutes, sprinkle salt over curds and stir. (Note: If you refrigerate the cheese at this point, you’ll have queso blanco — break out the taco shells!)
4. Press cheese. Pull the cheesecloth ends together at the top, then twist and squeeze the cheese into a disk. Lay the flattened disk down and re-dress the cheese by layering the four corners of the cloth smoothly on top of the disk. (Keep the cheese completely encased in cloth.) Place the wrapped cheese on an upside-down plate that’s atop a rimmed baking sheet (to catch the whey). Cover the cheese with another upside-down plate. Set something heavy, such as a cast-iron pan, on top of the top plate to press the cheese.
After an hour, check to see whether whey still runs out when you push the cheese with your fingertips. If so, press it longer. If not, get out your cheese knife!
5. Store cheese. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week. The pressed cheese may also be frozen for up to 3 months.
Interested in other homemade cheese recipes? Read How to Make Fresh Cheese: The Basic Steps.
Photo by Tim Nauman: Paneer doesn’t melt when heated, so it’s a great candidate to fry and serve with a dip.