What Is Paneer Cheese? Here’s Your Paneer Primer

Even if you’ve only glanced at an Indian menu, you probably recognize the word paneer. It pops up in dishes like saag paneer and paneer tikka—but what is paneer? Folks, we’ve got one word for you: cheese! Paneer is the mild, milky, crumbly cheese found in many delectable dishes. Specifically, it is a fresh and unaged Indian cheese. Today, we’ll explore what makes paneer cheese so unique. 

What is paneer made of?

So, you might be asking yourself: What is in paneer? Well, it is a simple cheese made from two primary ingredients: milk and an acidic agent such as lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid. Traditionally, cow’s milk is used, although variations can be made with goat or buffalo milk.

How is paneer made?

Paneer is made by curdling milk with an acidic agent to separate the curds from the whey. Typically, cow’s milk is heated until near boiling, and an acid, often lemon juice or vinegar, is introduced. The acid causes the milk to form soft curds. The mixture is then strained through cheesecloth, separating the solid curds from the liquid whey. The curds are gathered, pressed, and allowed to set, resulting in a firm and crumbly block of paneer cheese. 

Is paneer cottage cheese?

While both paneer and cottage cheese are fresh cheeses, they differ in their preparation and texture. Paneer is pressed to create blocks, while cottage cheese is sold as curds. Additionally, cottage cheese often retains some whey, giving it a slightly tangy flavor. And cottage cheese is usually made with salt, while paneer is not. So paneer is much more neutral than cottage cheese (if you can even imagine such a thing). Despite these distinctions, the terms “paneer” and “cottage cheese” are occasionally used interchangeably, leading to some confusion in different culinary contexts. Both are equally good to squish between your fingers, though. 

What does paneer taste like?

Paneer has a mild and milky flavor with a subtle sweetness. The cheese readily absorbs the flavors of spices, marinades, or sauces. Paneer’s texture is firm, yet it has a pleasant crumbly quality, offering a unique mouthfeel—kind of like firm tofu, but creamy. 

Does paneer melt?

No, paneer does not melt like many other cheeses. Paneer retains its structure even when exposed to heat. If only we could make polar ice caps out of this stuff! 

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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