I’ve tried making paneer before using lemon juice as the curdling agent, and both times my cheese turned out rather crumbly and a bit gritty. (But maybe I just didn’t drain it under a weight long enough.) An Indian friend said I should try making it with buttermilk instead. Then in September Cook’s Illustrated published a paneer recipe that calls for buttermilk, and I finally got around to trying it over the break.
- 3 quarts whole milk
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon salt [I used 2 tsp.]
- Line colander with triple layer of cheesecloth and set in sink.
- Bring milk to boil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Whisk in buttermilk and salt, turn off heat, and let stand for 1 minute. Pour milk mixture through cheesecloth and let curds drain for 15 minutes.
- Pull edges of cheesecloth together to form pouch. Twist edges of cheesecloth together, firmly squeezing out as much liquid as possible from cheese curds. Place taut, twisted cheese pouch between 2 large plates and weigh down top plate with heavy Dutch oven. Set aside at room temperature until cheese is firm and set, at least 45 minutes.
- Remove cheesecloth and cut cheese into ½-inch pieces. (Left uncut, cheese can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
My dutch oven is not enameled, but since the recipe doesn’t specify I didn’t think it mattered. The recipe doesn’t say to stir while bringing the milk to a boil. And I misread the heat level and used medium-low heat instead of medium-high. I’m not sure which of these issues influenced the final result, but I ended up with a ring of burnt milk on the bottom of my dutch oven, and it was truly impossible to get off. I’m not sure what the solution is. The burnt milk seems to have bonded with the bottom of my (cast iron?) pan.
I won’t use my dutch oven next time, but instead my 8-quart stainless steel stockpot. I think a 6-quart (and maybe 5-quart) pot would also work, but I only have a 4-quart pot, which is clearly not big enough.
More mistakes: I turned away from the pot for one second (when it was close to boiling) to measure the buttermilk and it boiled over a bit. Oy, what a mess. But the final cheese turned out well. It was easy to cut, didn’t crumble, and had a good flavor. Derek thought it was very good, but that could have been even saltier. Next time he wants me to put the full amount of salt in.
Derek and I disagreed on whether “let stand for 1 minute” meant on the heat or off. I thought they would have said to take the pan off the heat if that’s what they meant. We turned the heat off but left the pot on the warm burner for about 90 seconds, until we started to see the greenish whey.
Another small mistake I used was using slightly too small pieces of cheese cloth. The cheese escaped the edges of the inner layer and so I lost some of the cheese in bits between the layers, and I had to clean all three pieces of cheesecloth, not just the inner layer. Next time I need to make sure that my cheesecloth.
We had trouble balancing the dutch oven on top of the cheesecloth-wrapped cheese. The cheesecloth had a lump in the middle where it was twisted together, and so the pan wouldn’t sit flat, and kept falling to one side or the other. I wonder if next time I could get the knot to be on the side, so I get a flat piece of cheese? That would also result in fewer indentations in the final block of cheese.
I let the initial whey drain away into the sink, but saved the later whey. I tasted it and it was a bit salty but very rich and sweet tasting, almost cheese-like in flavor. I wouldn’t think there would be any fat in it, so why did it taste so rich? I’ve never had whey before, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to taste like. I saved about one quart of the whey (but there must have been around three quarts in total). I thought maybe I could use it as the liquid in a curry.
Make sure your colander is big enough. I used a 5-quart colander, which worked well. If you use a much smaller colander you might need to pour out the milk in batches.
I read warnings online about using UHT (i.e., shelf-stable) milk for making cheese. Supposedly it doesn’t work well. Other tips I read said to make sure the milk has started to foam up before adding the acid, and make sure not to continue to cook the milk after adding the acid. Some recipes say to let the cheese hang and drain, but one site I read said not to do this, just to drain it in the colander and then immediately weight it down.