is to India's millions of vegetarians what tofu is to a similar
number of Orientals. It is a versatile protein food from a country
that explores milk products perhaps more than any other. Panir has
been eaten on the subcontinent for millenia, and is mentioned in
India's ancient sanskrit text the Bhagavata-purana.
Panir is the simplest kind of unripened cheese. Whole milk is heated,
an acid reagent is introduced, and milk proteins coagulates to form
a soft curd of casein. When drained of whey and compacted, it has
a texture and delicious creamy flavour reminiscent of a combination
of fresh mozzarella, farmers cheese and baked ricotta.
There are hundreds of ways to use panir cheese; eaten fresh with
a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and fresh herbs is
my favourite. It can also be crumbled, sliced or cubed, pan-fried,
baked, grilled or deep-fried in main dishes, fried in crispy batter,
stuffed into breads, added to salads, kneaded and mixed with fresh
herbs, made into dips, added to soups or transformed into myriad
confectionery items. Scrambled panir cheese (see photo above) is
a great breakfast dish with wholewheat toast or Indian puffed fried
Panir is sold throughout India in bazaar cheese shops and grocery
stores. It is also available in Latin American countries under the
name queso blanco – ‘white cheese’, and throughout
Eastern Europe, Russia and the Balkan countries, all under various
Fortunately, it is quick and easy to make at home. Over the past
30 years I have made batches of panir cheese all around the world,
and no two batches are ever exactly alike. Farm fresh whole milk,
especially Jersey, Guernsey cows yields the very best panir, and
is superior to the cheese made from supermarket homogenised milk.
I have even experimented with the milk from other animals. Not
long ago I presented a class in Southern Victoria and made an exquisite
batch of panir from buffalo's milk, provided by the manager of Shaw
River Buffalo Milk products. Buffalo milk yields over 40% more cheese
per litre than cows milk, by the way - one of the reasons why it
is preferred by cheese-makers in India. Whereas cows milk panir
is an off-white colour due to the presence of carotene in the milk,
the milk from buffalos, sheep and goats is a stark white colour
due to the absence of the carotene.
There is a choice of acid reagents: strained fresh lemon or lime
juice, a citric acid solution, white vinegar, yogurt, cultured buttermilk,
or a naturally soured panir whey from a previous batch. The whey
dripping from a batch of hung yogurt cheese makes an excellent reagent.
Each type of reagent gives different body, texture and subtle flavour
to the fresh curd.
Making each batch of cheese is different. You may find that your
cheese forms before the entire curdling agent is added. If this
happens, do not add the remaining curdling agent, because it would
harden and toughen the delicate cheese curds. You may sometimes
find that once the entire amount of curdling agent is added, the
cheese curds will still have not sufficiently formed and the whey
will still be milky. To finish the job, simply add a little more
of the curdling agent until solid lumps of cheese separate from
A sour, acid or lemony flavour in your cheese means that too much
curdling agent was added, or that the cheese was not sufficiently
washed before draining and compressing.
Yeasty or unclean flavours in your cheese indicate that the milk
was soured or stale before being turned into cheese.
Tough or crumbly-textured cheese frequently results from using
milk with a low fat content, or from allowing the cheese to remain
too long over the heat once it has formed and separated from the
whey, or from allowing the cheese to soak in the whey before washing.
Subtle differences in the texture of the soft cheese curds also
depend on the heat of the milk when the curdling agent was added,
the type of heat used (electric, gas, wood fire, etc), the volume
of milk in the pot, and the thickness of the pot's walls. The fresh
cheese curds should be soft and moist, not soggy and wet. As a general
rule, the longer the cheese remains over heat, the firmer the texture
becomes. Happy curdling!
Making Homemade Curd Cheese (Panir)
You need little by way of equipment to make curd cheese: a 2 -
6 litre pan, or larger (depending on the quantity of milk), a stirring
paddle or wooden spoon, a colander, and some new cheesecloth. You
will need the following ingredients for an easily manageable home
batch of panir.
4 litres fresh milk
3-4 cups yogurt, or 4-6 tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar,
or 2 teaspoons citric acid dissolved in ¾ cup water
Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed pan that allows plenty
of room for boiling.
Set it over high heat and bring the milk to a full foaming
boil, stirring often to prevent scorching and sticking.
Reduce the heat to low, and, before the foam subsides,
drizzle in the lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid solution, or spoon
in the yogurt. Very gently and slowly move the spoon through the
milk in one direction. After 10 or 15 seconds, remove the pan from
the heat and continue to gently agitate the milk until large lumps
of soft curd form. If the cheese has not formed after 1 minute place
the pan over the heat momentarily until the casein (milk protein)
coagulates and leaves pale yellow-greenish whey. If necessary, add
a little more acid agent. The greenish colour of the whey is due
to the presence of whey-soluble proteins Riboflavin and Lactoglobulin.
As soon as the cheese has formed, remove the pan from
the heat, cover it and set it aside for 10 minutes. If you want
a very soft
cheese, gently pour in 1 or 2 cups of hot water. When the cheese
has settled under the surface of the whey
it is ready to drain.
Line a colander with 2 or 3 thicknesses of cheesecloth
or some clean white cloth that has been dipped in water and wrung
dry. Drape the corners and edges of the cloth over the sides of
the colander. If you want to collect the whey, set the colander
over another pan; otherwise place it in a sink. Many sweet-makers
in Bengal use this soured whey to make further batches of cheese,
but you need a significant amount more than lemon juice to do the
job - you need one part whey to four parts milk.
Remove the large lumps of cheese with a slotted spoon and
place them in a colander. Gently pour the smaller pieces and remaining
whey into the colander.
Gather up the corners of the cloth and twist it around.
Hold the bag of cheese under a gentle stream of cold running water
for 5 to 10 seconds. Gently twist the cloth to squeeze out the excess
Drain the whey slowly, allowing the curd to compact under
its own weight, by hanging the bag over a bowl to drain. Otherwise,
for a quicker result, you can place the bag of cheese under a weight
Unwrap the cheese and use as directed, or wrap in paper-towel-lined
plastic wrap, zip-lock bags or plastic containers and refrigerate
for up to 4 days.
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