who knew you could make cheese in just over an hour? well, besides many of the 1.2 billion people in india, several other peoples of middle eastern and southeast asian countries, most cheese makers, savvy chefs and a few other food nerds, not many. other than those scant few, i have just become aware of this recently. i was reading omnivorous, a food blog, by a local private chef spencer h. gray, and came across a beautiful picture of a capresesque salad: deep red tomatoes, bright green basil, and what looked to be some sort of cubed mozzarella. to my surprise it was paneer, a cheese that i had only had in the past at indian restaurants. being that one of my favorite ways to use tomatoes in the summer is a caprese salad, i had to try this out.

you will need:

  • 8 cups (64 oz) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained of seeds and pulp
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • cheesecloth
  • an accurate thermometer, or a keen sense as to when milk is at the boiling point
  • a strainer or colander

mix the lemon juice and warm water together, and set aside. bring the milk slowly to a boil over medium heat in a stainless steel, non-reactive pot (not aluminum). when it reaches 212ºF (use a thermometer), pour the lemon juice water mixture in a slow steady stream while stirring continually and carefully.

the curd will then start separating from the whey. this is probably about the time you start reciting the old nursery rhyme ‘little miss muffet.’ turn the heat off.

line a strainer or colander with a few layers of cheesecloth. use a ladle and remove the curd from the whey and strain it through the cheesecloth.

gather the cheesecloth together and squeeze as much of the residual whey out.

rinse the bundle under cold running water, alternating with squeezing the whey and water out, a few times. when you have gotten as much water and whey out as possible, put the bundle back in the strainer, and put a saucer and something heavy (i used my sugar container) on top for about an hour.

the longer and more you are able to press out the water and whey, the firmer the cheese. unwrap the cheese, discard the cloth, and it is ready to eat.

i prefer to refrigerate the cheese in plastic wrap first before cutting into it.

for my paneer caprese salad you will need:

  • fresh tomato
  • fresh basil leaves
  • thin slices of paneer
  • good olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • s+p

slice the tomatoes thin. chiffonade the basil. layer the tomato and paneer as you wish, and sprinkle the basil over. drizzle a little bit of the balsamic and olive oil over the tomatoes and basil. add s+p to taste.

it is delicious! the only thing i might try next time is to get some salt into the paneer, but really, it’s not that important.