Paneer 101 ~ how to make your own cheese for fun and profit


For quite a while now I’ve been wanting to make my own paneer instead of paying $6 for a 12 oz package at my local ethnic grocery store.  So I decided I’d call a friend who’s really good at cooking all kinds of stuff and ask if she’s ever made paneer, no such luck.  Next, I called my mom (Ma or Amma).  She gave me some super vague directions, “get some milk and then curdle it.”  Then this last Saturday as I was sitting through an annual volunteer training at the State Penitentiary (I volunteer regularly at the State women’s prison) and the facilitator mentioned that there was an outbreak of prisoners making their own cheese and then bartering it for other valuables.  Whaaat?  So, I asked the facilitator “how did the inmate make cheese without a heat source or acid?” (I wanted answers, dang it)  ~ the answer?  “you don’t want to know, but I heard it was a pretty good Roquefort, why you want some?” then he launched into a side bar story of how two inmates got sick from homebrew made  with an old potato in the toilet….

Seriously, if prisoners can make underground cheese in their cells, I ought to be able to make paneer.  Turns out it’s really easy.  Maybe I can barter it for other valuables.

I did have some failures and here’s what I learned.  Don’t use whole milk or heavy cream because it makes the texture too soft.  It turns into a delightful ricotta that can be used for other things but not paneer.  Don’t use 1% or skim milk because the low-fat content makes a rubbery end product.  So like Goldilocks I found the milk that was just right.  Medium fat content or 2% milk is the perfect choice and although you can use buttermilk or a variety of vinegars as the source of acid, lemon juice still works the best.

Heat milk to boiling, make sure to stir often to avoid burning the milk

As soon as milk comes to a boil add lemon juice and water and stir in gently

Turn off heat and let the whey separate out by letting it rest about 8-10 minutes

Pour into a cheesecloth lined colander and rinse with cold water to get the lemony smell and taste out

Squeeze out all excess water from the paneer

Knead the paneer for about 3-4 minutes until smooth

It should come together into a nice smooth ball

Re-wrap the paneer in cheesecloth and place it on a cookie sheet with a heavy pan on top to take out any excess water (takes about an hour or two)

Here’s the recipe:

How to make Paneer

8 cups of 2% milk

5 tbsp lemon juice thinned with 2 tablespoons of water

Tools needed:  Cheese cloth and colander

In a heavy bottom pan heat milk until it boils.  Make sure to stir often so that the milk doesn’t stick or begin burning at the bottom.  As soon as it comes to a boil, slowly add in the lemon juice and water mixture and gently stir to incorporate.  Turn off heat.  Almost immediately you’ll see the curds separate out and a greenish liquid emerge.  Let it sit for about 8 minutes before pouring into a cheesecloth lined colander.  Gently rinse with cold water to get all the lemony smell out then squeeze the cheesecloth to get rid of as much liquid as possible.  Knead the paneer for about 3-4 minutes until smooth.  At this point you can use the paneer in a dessert dish like Rosgullas or Chumchums or make the paneer used for savory cooking.  If using for a savory dish you can get creative and add toasted cumin seeds or chopped cilantro or salt and fresh cracked pepper to the kneaded paneer.  Now you have “designer” paneer (which the Indian store wanted even more money for).  Flatten out the paneer inside the cheesecloth and put it in a cookie sheet.  Line the cookie sheet with several sheets of paper towel to absorb moisture and some on top of the paneer as well. Place a heavy pan (I used a cast iron skillet) or some other weight on top for about an hour or two this will take out any excess water and make a uniform size.  If you want to, you might even leave it in the fridge (with the skillet and all) overnight for some really firm paneer but I found that an hour on the counter works fine. Cut into cubes or strips and cook your favorite curry!


34 responses »

  1. I found this via pinterest and am excited because I buy these little packets of spinach….something…that has paneer in it and I wanted to try to make it. Then I saw you commented back to someone that you used it to make Saag Paneer. I think that’s what I was wanting to make. I actually tried making it based on just the ingredients on the package, and it was good, but I didn’t have any paneer to add. Anyway, I was wondering if I could have your recipe for Saag Paneer to try with this cheese?

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  10. Reblogged this on the beach house kitchen and commented:
    Hello There Good Folk,
    I was going to write a post about making paneer, but why bother when desi chick at kolpona cuisine has done such a grand job. Paneer is so expensive in the shops and yet so easy to whip up at home. It makes sense to get some muslin/ cheesecloth and have a go yourself. I will be making my favourite paneer curry soon, there are so many options. Thank you desi chick and happy cheese makingX

    • Lee, do tell me how your batches of paneer turn out. I’m making Saag Paneer today (spinach and paneer) for dinner with a batch of paneer I just made day before yesterday.

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  14. I am totally going to try and make paneer this week. My partner LOVES the stuff (so do I). We have to go to Little India to get some usually, but that’s miles away. I found a Bangladeshi store that’s a little closer, but it’s still troublesome. In any case, I am sure that homemade, fresh paneer will taste better.

  15. This looks great, would it matter if the lemon juice is fresh squeezed or bottled? Not that I buy bottled but it didn’t know if one is better then the other for this recipe….. I can’t wait to make it

    • I actually buy a bottle to have on hand for stuff like this because you’re not using it for flavor but for the acid. I hate wasting a good lemon (and it’s zest). There are a few chutneys also that I use the bottled stuff so it’s not a total waste to buy one.

  16. This is how I make ricotta, but I use whole milk! I never thought of rinsing the curds to get rid of the lemony taste . . . and I also never knew that ricotta was just one tiny step away from paneer!

    So easy to make cheese at home, and it tastes so much better too. Another terrific set of cooking tips!

      • OK, I had the class today. Off the top of my head, two things I thought you might find interesting:

        1) Our 20-year-cheese-maker instructor said she washes her cheese cloth in a water with a mix of backing soda (a couple spoonfuls) and vinegar (a good “glug” from the bottle), boiled in a pot on the stove, for instance.

        2) For paneer, she sometimes adds yogurt or buttermilk. Her experience with different milks is different then yours; she uses raw milk whenever possible, but if from a store, she suggests “cream line” milk. In contrast to your experience, another friend of mine also recommeded using whole milk for paneer.

        We made a kefir cheese and mozzarella (!) in the 2 hour class… I’m looking forward to trying those. A friend just gave me a kefir starter, and we also bought some rennet as well… supplies for culinary adventures for the coming months!

      • Nice!! Thanks for the info. I’ll try the whole milk again since I’m new to the paneer making and see if the texture comes out well.

      • Oh, and the washing in baking soda and vinegar with water stinks, so she said don’t do it when guests are coming. 🙂

  17. Snap! I WAS going to do a homemade paneer post too! I will put it on the back burner for now 😀 I don’t like the texture of commercial paneer so make my own when it is called for. Been doing it for over 25 years (showing my age here). And you are right, it is very easy. And very satisfying to make. How cool that you volunteer with such a ‘Cinderella’ group. Kudos.

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