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How to Make Paneer Cheese

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to show us how to make homemade paneer cheese with just two simple ingredients – milk and lemon juice! Reading this post immediately makes me crave dairy products! -Marisa

Slices of homemade paneer cheese

We often preserve to capture height-of-season flavors or produce we can’t get for most of the year. But oftentimes in my kitchen, preserving happens in an effort to curb food waste.

That’s how I first learned to make paneer, the springy, fresh cheese that shows up as the protein in some of my favorite Indian dishes. It’s one of the quickest dairy products to make, and also one of the easiest. All you need is milk, lemon juice or vinegar, and a little salt.

Milk and lemon juice for homemade paneer cheese

One of the reasons to make cheese like this is to use up milk that’s right at or even a tiny bit past its sell-by date. Just make sure to give it a good sniff and then use your good sense and best judgment.

That said, when the list is so short, using the best ingredients you can afford is always a good idea.  I source whole raw Ayreshire milk from a small grass-fed dairy here in southeast Pennsylvania, Wholesome Dairy Farms, for both drinking and making value-added dairy products.

Milk separating into curds for homemade paneer cheese.

I find that even when I’m pasteurizing the milk for a recipe, the yields on items like yogurt, whole-milk ricotta, and paneer are higher, and the product just tastes better when I’ve started with raw milk. We’re lucky that raw milk is so available in Pennsylvania. If you can get your hands on it from a reputable source in your state, I recommend doing so, even if you plan to pasteurize it in your recipe.

While we’re heating the milk for this recipe far past the pasteurization point, it’s still a good idea to remember that the very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems carry a greater risk when consuming unpasteurized milk products.

Pressing the homemade paneer cheese.

To start your cheese, pour one half gallon of milk into a four-quart, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my enameled Dutch oven). Heat the milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and feeling along the bottom of the pot with your spoon to make sure that it isn’t scorching. Keep a close eye on the pot so that it doesn’t boil over.

You want to get to a little below the boiling point, about 200oF. You can use an instant-read or milk thermometer for this, or you can watch for when tiny bubbles start to form on the surface of the milk. When you see the bubbles, immediately remove the pot from the heat.

Pressed homemade paneer cheese in the strainer.

Once you’ve reached the proper temperature, stir in lemon juice. This will cause the milk solids to immediately begin separating out. As the milk sits, the solids will continue to coagulate.

Strain the curds, then press out the remaining liquid in cheesecloth or butter muslin (I prefer butter muslin for home cheesemaking since it’s washable and reusable; cheesecloth is one-time use only). Press and refrigerate the cheese for at least a half an hour or overnight.

Homemade paneer cheese, unwrapped from the butter muslin.

Once the cheese is full drained, unwrap the bundle. Now you’re ready to add chunks of paneer to a curry or other dish, or — my favorite — fry slices up in some ghee and enjoy them with flaky sea salt and maybe a dollop of tomato jam or a slab of quince paste.

Bits of fried homemade paneer cheese.

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Homemade Yogurt in Mason Jars

My personal yogurt consumption goes up and down. I’ll go for weeks eating it every day and then suddenly, I’ll stop and a month will go by before I have it again. I have no good explanation for this. It’s just the way things happen in my edible world.

I’m currently is a very pro-yogurt phase. I’ve been eating more than a quart a week and started feeling guilt about consuming so many plastic containers. It was time to restart my homemade yogurt habit.

thermometer in milk

Truly, making yogurt at home couldn’t be easier. I stop doing it out of laziness, but once I force myself back into the routine of it, I’m always glad (sounds like so many things in life, doesn’t it?).

The first step is to heat the milk to 190-200 degrees F. You can use any milk you’d like. I made this batch using six cups of whole, un-homogenized milk (because it’s not homogenized, the cream will rise to the top, leaving me with a gorgeous, rich upper layer).

cooling milk

Once it reaches that temperature (take care not to let it boil), you want to cool the milk down to 120 degrees F. I do this by filling my sink with cold water and placing the pot in. The water helps reduce the temperature quite rapidly, so don’t walk away during this step.

pouring milk

Once it has cooled to 120 degrees F, whisk two tablespoons of yogurt into the milk. Over the years, I’ve tried using various amounts of yogurt to start my batches and I’ve actually found that the smaller amounts work better than larger amounts. A tablespoon for every 3-4 cups of milk just seems to work perfectly.

There was also a time during which I stirred some dry milk into each batch of yogurt I made. I’d heard it made for a thicker yogurt. In the end, I decided it had no discernable positive impact on the finished product and, if anything, left me with lumpy yogurt.

ready to incubate

Once you’ve stirred the yogurt in, pour the inoculated milk into your jars. You’ll see that my jars aren’t entirely full. There’s no reason why you can’t fill them up to the top. I just didn’t have enough milk in the fridge to make a full batch. However, I filled the jars evenly because I wanted to ensure that they’d process at the same rate.

A note about the starter yogurt you use: Make sure to use a yogurt that you like. There are a number of different yogurt bacterias out there and they all turn out slightly different yogurts. Splurge on the starter in order to make something you’re happy with.

cooler for yogurt

There are a number of ways you can keep your yogurt warm during it’s process. Some people have little machines. Others pop the jars in the oven with the light on. I’ve even heard that you can use a slow cooker or hot pads.

After trying all those methods, I’ve come to prefer using a cooler for this step (hat tip to the Frugal Girl for introducing me to this method). This Little Playmate holds two quart jars perfectly. I got it at a thrift store several years ago for a couple dollars, which has always pleased me.

jars of milk in cooler

Place your filled jars into the cooler and add hot tap water until they’re submerged, but not floating. You want the water to be around 120-125 degrees F. I’ve found that this is exactly how hot my hottest tap water is, so I use that. Makes life easy, too.

homemade yogurt

Once the jars are in the cooler and it’s filled with water, close it and tuck it out of the way for 6-7 hours. You can go as long as 8-9 hours, but keep in mind that the longer it sits, the more pronounced its tang will be. When I was working, I’d often start a batch of yogurt just before I left the house in the morning and let it process all day. It made for a tart yogurt, but I loved the simplicity of it.

When the time is up, remove the jars from the cooler and place them in the fridge. Use your homemade yogurt like you would any other kind of yogurt. If you’re interested in transforming your yogurt into a thicker product (along the lines of greek yogurt), all you do is strain it. Well Preserved has a good post on that, as well as suggestions for using up the resulting whey.

For those of you who regularly make yogurt, do you have any tips to share?

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