Your life needs more fried cheese. Homemade paneer is the simplest cheese recipe to make and the one I recommend starting with as it requires no rennet, no special equipment, and it can be made with almost any milk you have access to. Paneer cheese is equally delicious in savoury and sweet recipes, can be fried, grilled, or even smoked, and it comes together quickly with almost no effort. Paneer is a foolproof beginner cheese recipe.
Paneer is a fresh cheese, meaning that no ageing is required. You can eat your paneer immediately after making it. It is also a vegetarian cheese as it requires no rennet to form the curd; rather, simple acids are used like vinegar, yogurt, or lemon juice.
Watch The Recipe Video
Paneer is a staple in India although there is some debate as to its origins. The origin of cheese, in general, is very much up for debate as it is an ancient food. The word paneer itself is from the Hindi and Urdu languages and can be traced back to an ancient Persian word simply meaning 'cheese.'
Ancient Indian, Afghan-Iranian and Portuguese-Bengali have all been proposed for the origin of paneer, but most of us likely associate it with Indian food where it is popular and common. If you've been to an Indian restaurant, you've likely seen dishes like palak paneer (spinach) or mattar paneer (peas). It is the most common cheese used in India where it is featured in many recipes.
Paneer Cheesemaking Doesn't Require Special Milk
You can use raw milk. You can use 2%. You can use whole milk. The milk can be homogenized or not. It doesn't matter — what do you have in the fridge?
The one exception is that you absolutely cannot use UHT pasteurized milk. It simply won't work — not here, not in any cheesemaking.
Ultra-high temperature processing (UHT), ultra-heat treatment, or ultra-pasteurization is a form of processing where the milk is pasteurized by being heated to very high temperatures. It kills any potential bad stuff.....and absolutely all of the good stuff.
The process of UHT pasteurization, which allows milk to be stored on shelves for an unnaturally extended period of time is a particularly nasty one. I would stay away from that stuff at all costs as it transforms a beautiful, nourishing, traditional food into something dead and potentially very unhealthy.
So make sure you read the fine print on your labels. If the milk is on an unrefrigerated shelf, it's obviously UHT. But often UHT milk is also stored in the refrigerator aisle, in fact, many chocolate milks are UHT but still refrigerated. You wouldn't even know it unless you read the tiny fine print at the very bottom.
As corporations look to extend the shelf life of everything for convenience, at the cost of taste, health, and tradition — more and more milk on the shelves will be UHT pasteurized. Always read the fine print. Or better yet, buy directly from small dairies and farms.
I'm a huge fan of whole raw milk for a plethora of reasons that deserve their own article. It is illegal in Canada (for various nonsensical reasons posing as health concerns) but you can still find a way to obtain it — I did.
Otherwise, use good whole milk, unhomogenized if you can, but honestly — everything but UHT will work.
If you're serious about cheesemaking and want to move beyond paneers, yogurts, yogurt cheeses, you will want to start looking for a reputable source of high-quality raw milk. I'm partial to the Guernsey breed for its higher fat and protein content, and the breed prevalence towards A2 milk.
Cheesemaking Equipment for Paneer
The other thing that makes paneer such a foolproof but rewarding cheese is that you don't need any special equipment. Everything you need you already have in your kitchen, trust me.
Do you have a large pot that can hold 4 litres of milk?
Do you have a colander of some sort?
Do you have a slotted metal spoon or something similar that can be used to scoop the paneer curds from the hot liquid whey on the stovetop?
Then you can make paneer.
Choosing The Right Acid For Paneer
Any acid will work for paneer — vinegar, fresh lemon juice, even yogurt.
Adding Herbs & Spices
After the curd has formed and been separated from the whey, you can add whatever fresh herbs and spices you like — it's completely optional.
See my recipe: Wild Ramp Paneer Cheese (Preserving Your Ramps Past Spring)
A Simple Cheese Press
Paneer is usually pressed after the hot curd is separated from the whey. Once pressed, it can be fried, grilled, or smoked while retaining its shape and not melting.
If you choose to not press your paneer, consider adding some freshly chopped herbs into it and eating it as a dip.
To press paneer without special equipment, all you need is a flat-bottomed colander and something heavy to put on top.
If you don't have a flat-bottomed colander, place some parchment paper on a cutting board and spread the warm curds evenly onto it before covering with another piece of parchment paper and then weighed down with something suitably heavy like another cutting board or even some books.
Slightly elevate one side of the board and then rotate it every 30 minutes so that the whey properly drains from all parts of the curd.
Storing Your Paneer
Your fresh paneer will last up to a week refrigerated, covered. Frozen it will last so much longer.
One of the other amazing things about paneer cheese is that it freezes beautifully — unlike most other cheeses.
Beyond The Basics
Ready to take your cheesemaking to the next level? Here are the books I recommend:
Beginner Cheesemaking: A Simple Paneer Cheese
Paneer is the simplest cheese to make and the one I recommend starting with as it requires no rennet, no special equipment, and it can be made with almost any milk you have access too — except UHT-pasteurized.
Paneer cheese is equally delicious in savoury and sweet recipes, once pressed it can be fried, grilled, or even smoked, and it comes together quickly with almost no effort. It's a foolproof beginner's cheese.
- Prep Time: 1.5 hours
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
- Yield: 1.5 lbs 1x
- Category: Cheese
- Cuisine: Indian
- Diet: Hindu
- 4 litres of milk (I use raw whole milk, but any milk will do except for UHT-pasteurized)
- 1/2 cup of any vinegar or 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (no pulp) or 1 pint of yogurt or kefir
- 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt (make sure it's not iodized)
- Fresh herbs and/or spices (completely optional)
- A heavy-bottomed pot that can hold the milk
- A wooden spoon or silicone spatula
- Slotted spoon
- Something to use as a make-shift cheese press (see recipe notes for ideas)
- Pour your milk into the large pot and set it on the stovetop over medium-high heat.
- Stir it constantly as it slowly comes to a boil, then remove it from the heat immediately.
- Add your acid to the pot and slowly and carefully stir it once or twice, no more.
- Allow the pot to rest for 5-10 minutes. The curds will separate from the liquid whey.
- Carefully spoon out the curds with a slotted spoon/skimmer or small mesh colander into a larger colander suspended over a bowl.
- Add your salt and stir.
- If you're adding any herbs and/or spices, this is the time to do so before pressing.
- Press the curd into fresh paneer as per the recipe notes, or skip the pressing and enjoy as-is.
- If you are pressing, the paneer is finished once it has come to room temperature.
- Store in the fridge up to a week, or freeze, and enjoy.