I love cheese. Unfortunately, most cheese is considered to be heavy and āma-genic, or toxin-forming, according to Ayurveda. There is one exception though. Fresh cheese, also known as paneer in India, queso fresco in Latin America, wagashi in Ghana, or farmer’s cheese in Europe, is considered to be a light and fairly digestible form of cheese for most people, when consumed in proper quantities. It’s rich in protein, healthy fats (especially when made with grass-fed cow milk), and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. And because it’s lighter than other cheeses, it’s considered to be tridoshic.
Paneer is also very easy to make. I make it nearly every week from the last half of the gallon of raw milk I get from a local dairy farm. All you need is a pot, some form of acid (I generally use lemon juice, but you can use lime juice or vinegar as well), a mesh strainer, and cheese cloth. It can be left as loose curds, or pressed into a harder cheese for slicing. It won’t melt, so it can be used in a variety of ways. You can fry it in ghee, grill it, crumble it over any and all Mexican food, stir it into curries or make Saag Paneer…the possibilities are limitless.
The by-product of making paneer is whey: a yellow liquid that is full of protein and minerals. I recommend reserving the whey for use in other recipes. You can use it to cook rice or other grains (it adds a subtle, buttery flavor), as a stock in soups, or to replace water or milk in baked goods.
How to Make Paneer (Queso Fresco)
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1/2 gallon whole milk, ideally non-homogenized (cream-top) and grass-fed
1/3 cup lemon juice, lime juice, or white vinegar
Bring the milk to a boil in a large pot over medium heat (high heat will scorch the milk, so be sure the temperature isn’t too hot). You’ll need to keep a close eye on it, as once it begins to boil, it will boil over very quickly.
The moment the milk starts to boil, remove from heat.
Stir in the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the curds begin to separate from the whey. The curds will clump together, and the whey should look yellowish and relatively clear. If it still looks milky, add more lemon. Once fully separated, allow to cool for 5-15 minutes.
To make crumbled cheese: Strain the curds through a mesh strainer (no cheesecloth necessary). Allow curds to drain for up to an hour, then transfer to a container for immediate use, or store in the fridge for up to 1 week.
To make pressed cheese: Strain the curds through a mesh strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth. Squeeze out excess whey (be careful not to burn yourself). Place cheese on a flat surface and fold the cheesecloth snugly around the curds. Place a heavy object on the curds to continue pressing the cheese into a block. I often use a stack of plates (as in the picture below), but you could also use a cutting board with a cast iron pan over it, or a bowl full of water. After about 30 minutes, the cheese will have formed into a soft block. Unwrap the cheese for use in a recipe, or store in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Reserve the whey for use in other recipes.