From Too Many Chefs -

March 7, 2005
Curds and Whey - Indian Panir/Paneer - Easy Cheesy

The one dish we always order in Indian restaurants is sag paneer/palak paneer. This spinach and cheese dish perfumed by spices and combined with a simple South Asian cheese is a favorite of mine.

I made sag paneer Sunday, but before I could make sag paneer, I had to make the paneer itself. Paneer, also spelled panir, is a simple fresh cheese that doesn't really have a commercial equivalent that I've seen. Paneer is extremely simple to make and is a great experiment to do with the kids so they can see how liquid whole milk turns into delicious cheese.

I started with 1/2 gallon of whole milk. If you have a standard large stockpot, I don't recommend you make much more at a time. You'll see why as we proceed.

For equipment you'll need a large stockpot - preferably heavy and non-stick, a wooden spoon, a good sized colander, a big bowl to put the colander in, a package of cheese cloth, a bit of kitchen twine and if possible a place to hang the cheesecloth later where the paneer inside can drain.

For the ingredients, you'll need a half gallon of whole milk and six tablespoons of lemon juice. You must use whole milk because the fat and solids in the milk are what we're trying to collect up. Skim milk just won't cut it here. This is one of the very few times you'll see whle milk in my refrigerator.

Heat the half gallon of milk to a full rolling boil. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom with the wooden spoon to keep anything from sticking.

I know what you're thinking. Recipes always warn you about overheating milk, and this maniac wants me to put it on the boil!? Well, yes. The other recipes are trying to prevent the milk from doing what we're trying to get the milk to do here - separate into the milk solids, aka the curds and the remaining liquid, aka the whey.
Once the milk expands dramatically in volume...

(Yup, that's the same amount of milk) Reduce the heat to low and stir in the lemon juice. Stir for about 15-20 seonds always in the same direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). Pretty soon, the curds should start separating from the whey.

Curds and Whey

It looks pretty gross, but that's cheesy GOLD in that pot. Take the pot off the heat, cover tightly, and let it sit for ten minutes.

Cover a colander with cheesecloth or muslin folded so there is plenty extra on each side to make a sack around the cheese-to-be, but also so there are 3-4 layers of cheesecloth on top of the colander. Place the colander in a larger bowl to catch the liquid to be strained. Spoon the biggest solids out of the stockpot with a slotted spoon into the cheesecloth covered colander, then slowly pour the remaining liquid whey through the colander and cheesecloth.

Let the curds cool a bit, then gather the cheesecloth together to form a sack for the curds. Tie the curds off with a short piece of kitchen twine.

Rinse the bundle in warm water once to get rid of the residual lemon juice.

If you have a good knob on a kitchen cabinet, suspend the paneer in the cheesecloth from the knob over a bowl to catch the whey that will slowly drain. You may twist the cloth tight to press some whey out, but do so gently.

After 3 hours suspended the cheese should be ready for use. Use immediately or save for a week or so in your refrigerator.

Don't toss the whey (well, not all of it). Save some for our sag paneer recipe tomorrow.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at March 7, 2005 12:17 AM | TrackBack

COOL! I have always wanted to try this but assumed (wrongly I guess) that you needed special milk - unpasteurized or fresher than you can get in the supermarket. Also, I once tried an "easy" make at home cheese following the frugal gourmet's advice and ended up with milky mess. This looks simple and fun though!

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 7, 2005 at 2:22 AM

It is kind of magic and really simple. Maybe I'll make butter someday soon.

Posted by barrett on March 7, 2005 at 9:18 AM

I made butter once! When I was about seven, we spent one Easter on a farm owned by a good friend of the family and I got to milk a cow and make butter. I think you'll need the full cream unpasteurised milk for that though...unless it's possible with cream?

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 7, 2005 at 9:27 AM

Yes, you can make butter from cream.

However, I am not sure how ultrapasteurized cream will act when it comes to making butter.

Posted by Barbara on March 7, 2005 at 9:55 AM

That was really cool, I've been wanting to try making cheese for a long time now but have always been intimidated. I'm so glad you included pictures, I can see that this is something I can do. Thank you for the great post and the inspiration!

Posted by Deb on March 7, 2005 at 11:20 AM

Who took the pictures? They came out much better than the usual Barrett offerings.

Would cream be better than whole milk here with the additional fats? Or would that be irrelevant?

Posted by Bryan on March 7, 2005 at 6:37 PM

You know, I don't know about using cream. After I use the second half gallon of whole milk I'll try a batch with cream.

I'm guessing the yield will be higher.

Posted by barrett on March 7, 2005 at 6:58 PM

Cream by itself probably will not work. Cheese is a mixture of coagulated fat and protein. I would stick with whole milk, but with added cream, rather than straight cream.

In making cheeses that are higher in fat than protein, you usually need a stronger coagulant than an acid--you need rennet.

Sorry for the culinary nerd moment there. I've been thinking of taking up cheese making and so have been reading up on it off and on in the past year or so.

Posted by Barbara on March 7, 2005 at 10:09 PM

Barbara you've just demonstrated the benefit of interactive communities. Thanks for the great info.

Posted by barrett on March 8, 2005 at 5:48 AM

Thanks! Woohoo for cooking chemists and the people who love them.

Posted by Bryan on March 8, 2005 at 8:55 AM

NO.... Cream does not make cheese. It's nearly all fat, no protein. The protein makes the cheese. The curdling (with acid either from calf stomach - rennet - or lemon juice) is what separates the proteins out. And by the same token, you can't make butter out of milk, even very rich milk. Butter is all fat... so if you have a bunch of protein (milk) in it, it's never going to churn up. Yes, ultrapasteurized is fine. Even tho the food snobs won't use it... ultrapas is great stuff, and despite all the talk about how it doesn't whip and all... bull! Besides, I don't live in NYC where they can get it every day at Whole Foods.

Posted by kay on March 8, 2005 at 8:23 PM

Ultrapasturized works great for whipping, you are so right--I don't mind the stuff at all. I just had never used it in cheesemaking, so I wasn't so sure.

A friend of mine was telling me that she tried to make paneer cheese from a recipe, I believe it was from Jamie Oliver, which directed her to use only cream--and she couldn't figure out why it wouldn't coagulate. So, I told her that it was because there was no protien in there to coagulate it. I directed her to use whole milk, and it worked like a charm.

There are cheeses that use cream--but they always also have milk in them, as you say, so that there is protein to coagulate in it.

Posted by Barbara on March 8, 2005 at 11:03 PM

Hi, great recipe and comments.
We made butter at the preschool with 3-5 year olds so I guess this would work for anyone. We put two or three tablespoons of cream in a small jar, like a babyfood jar. Then just shake and shake and shake . . . till it goes solid - and you have your own pat of butter.

Posted by Amy An on April 30, 2005 at 12:42 PM

Hey, great recipe. I've had some success with this one before. I've found that using a few spoons of natural yoghurt instead of lemon juice works really well. I find it tastes a bit better too. Also, if you like things spicey, try adding some powdered spices like cumin, chili or corriander and ever ginger to the milk. It may not be authentic, but tastes great.

Posted by Spice on June 18, 2005 at 1:46 AM

I am in possession of beautiful raw organic milk from Somerset. I am trying to make curds and whey by simply letting it sit out, as instructed in one book I read. (I need the whey for some lacto-fermented veggies I want to try).
After about 48 hours, it has simply formed a solid white mass.
Hellpp...I don't want to ruin 2 qts. of beautiful milk ..what is happening here??

Posted by Julie on June 23, 2005 at 3:47 AM

Great recipe for palak paneer. Just returned from a visit to Moshi, Tanzania where we ate in an Indian restaurant and had THE BEST indian food ever! I have been trying ever since to approximate the palak paneer. Garlic naan is a great side with it. Naan can be grilled or cooked on a hot griddle and is almost as good as a brick oven.

Posted by jewish mama on August 17, 2005 at 11:56 PM

you can't make cheese using ultra pasteurized milk; it will not 'set up' as the protein has been changed during the "ultra" processing.

Posted by cheese apprentice on September 25, 2005 at 11:25 AM

Excellent instructions! The best I've seen, and I've been searching for years (and had many disasters)...the photos make it just perfect. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now I can make my favourite dish at home.

Posted by janice on October 29, 2005 at 6:24 PM

We make butter very often -- just put some regular old whipping cream into a jar, shake like mad until it separates. Pour off the liquid, mix in some salt to taste (you can "press" out the excess liquid if you like too). A little garlic is also nice.

Posted by janice on October 29, 2005 at 6:26 PM

My 3 year old son has a severe, life-threatening dairy allergy and a nurse suggested making him paneer out of breastmilk so he could try it (he really wants to try cheese).
Do you know of anyone who has tried this or tried making real cheese - he's wanting so badly to have a slice of pizza with cheese on it too?
Does it work?
Thank you so much for your time and advice!

Posted by Sonia on January 25, 2006 at 1:47 PM

Sonia, I wouldn't presume to give advice to you if your son has a serious allergy to dairy protein. And I don't think I'd take advice even from a nurse on an issue this critical.

Go talk to a doctor who is an allergist, and see what they think. I have a violent reaction to shrimp, crab, and lobster, and I can tell you anaphylaxis is an ugly, ugly thing and can be fatal.

I would certainly not take advice from a semi-anonymous blogger on the Internet. Sorry I can't be more help.

Posted by barrett on January 25, 2006 at 3:41 PM

How would one go about adding color, for example, to make cheddar cheese?

Posted by Fred on July 19, 2006 at 11:36 AM

Fred, you don't make cheddar that way. Cheddaring is actually a process. I suggest checking out Fankhauser's Cheese Page (linked at right) for details on how to make other cheeses.

Posted by barrett on July 20, 2006 at 10:32 AM


Posted by ANJELICA on November 4, 2008 at 10:23 PM

start with heavy (whipping) cream very well chilled--not frozen but close to it.
pour cream into a chilled bowl use the whisk attachment (also chilled) on your electric mixer (you can also do it by hand with a whisk but it requires more work). start whipping the cream at a low speed setting and gradually take it up to a hi speed setting until the cream forms stiff peaks (i. e. whipped cream) BUT DON'T STOP THERE! If continue whipping the cream will begin change composition and within about 1 to 3 minutes the water will separate from the fat. simply pour out the water (or drink it-- i think it is essentially a non-fat milk byproduct) what you will have left is a glob of fresh unsalted butter--made easy!

Posted by moses on June 28, 2009 at 3:24 PM

Here is a tip - there is no need to boil the milk, and risk overflowing your pot.
As long as you bring the milk to about 80 degrees Celsius for around 10min, this will be enough.
By heating the milk to >67 degrees Celsius you will start to denature the whey protein in the milk. This will increase the yield of your cheese. And because whey protein holds moisture well, it will give you a nice tender cheese.
The hotter the milk, the faster the whey denatures, but 80 degrees for 10min is enough to get the job done.
In industrial manufacture 90 degrees for 5min, of 95 for 3min does the trick.

Posted by Dan on September 13, 2009 at 12:41 AM

Below is a link to someone who tried to make breast milk paneer

Posted by Sherie on November 7, 2009 at 1:46 AM

My six year son was very recently cured of his life threatening milk allergy.
He was cured by Ayurveda.

Reach out to me at
prachi dot solomon at gmail dot com

Posted by Prachi on September 14, 2010 at 4:33 AM

I was given some lactobacillus bulgaricus several years ago. They look like little pearls. I keep them, in two batches, on top of the fridge in pint-sized ceramic pots mixed with milk. I strain out yoghurt every three or four days. I let it sit in the strainer until the whey drips out, and then I gently run my hand around the stainless steel strainer and push the yoghurt out, then I give my little "bulgaros" a rinse, and then it's back on top of the fridge with more milk.

I bake two loaves every 10-12 days and I use the whey instead of water. I believe it makes better bread; it tastes better and it's a bit more moist.

Posted by Umbagog on February 15, 2011 at 1:11 AM

Dont give whey to dogs is a laxitive used to make cheese as a kid with parents and can remember having given whey to dogs and having a big mess

Posted by kevin on April 10, 2011 at 2:38 PM