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Recently I've taken a liking to Indian cuisine and am trying to replicate the curry experience at home. The biggest problem I'm having is with the paneer cheese, which is used in curries I like the most.

When I eat out at an Indian restaurant, their paneer is firm, squishy and kind of 'squeaky' on the teeth. The one I make is always crumbly and falls apart in the curry. I've tried all kinds of recipes from the net; at one point I even asked a friendly Indian chef about it and he told me that they buy the milk directly from a farmer, and that the low-fat, UHT shop variety just won't do.

I tried reinforcing 2% milk with cream before as per the advice of one recipe or other, but not "country-milk" so I got some milk from a friend who keeps cows and the result wasn't much better. The cheese still won't stick together and keeps falling apart, you just can't feel the chewy, curry-flavored bits of paneer at all, so it's pretty useless to even bother with it. Help please?

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It's the same problem with poutine here in Canada; most people (including restaurants) just can't get the cheese curds right, they're supposed to squeak on the teeth. I don't really have any experience with paneer, but generally the squeak is an issue of freshness more than anything else. –  Aaronut Dec 20 '10 at 22:36
    
I also struggle with this for ages (+1). –  Amenti Jul 1 '11 at 6:23
    
What is funny is that virtually every Indian cookbook I own has just a short passage on the topic. One said and I quote: 'This cheese is very easy to prepare'. Arrrgh! –  neuviemeporte Sep 20 '11 at 19:22
    
When my mother makes paneer at home, or any of my Aunts in India, the texture is a bit more solid in consistency than cottage cheese. This leads me to believe that the factory made paneer and homemade paneer go through different processes. My mother everyone I know in India uses cow's milk to make paneer, I don't know if the usage of cow's milk is traditional or a modern thing though. I can't offer an answer, but my parents buy whole milk specifically for paneer (we use 2% for everything else in our lives). It turns out better if the milk is spoiled (it may sound bad, but it's going to be cook –  Nil Jan 9 at 5:03
    
@Nil: Surely you must mean "soured", not "spoiled"? ;) –  neuviemeporte Feb 23 at 22:33
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8 Answers

If you are using UHT milk, that is your answer right there. It won't make proper ricotta or mozzarella, so I'm not surprised it won't make good paneer either. Something about the heat treatment makes it so that it will only produce grainy, tiny curds. I made this mistake myself once, in my excitement to try my new cheesemaking kit. Here is some reference info, including pictures, from cheesemaking.com.

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As I didn't fail to mention, I tried natural milk as well but no difference there. Interestingly, the results I get look exactly like the "fail" section at the website you provided. I must ask my friend if the milk was heat-treated in any way before he gave it to me. Also, I kept it in a fridge a couple of days before curdling, I'm wondering if it could have an influence. Also, now I'm wondering: what is the difference between paneer and mozarella? –  neuviemeporte Dec 21 '10 at 1:57
    
In India, Paneer is usually made from buffalo milk. I don't have a source for this, but Buffalo milk has higher cream content, and that helps to make firm paneer. UHT or Cow milk will always result in not-so-good paneer. –  Sripathi Krishnan Dec 21 '10 at 16:57
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Like all cheeses, to make it firm you need pressure. With Paneer you typically press it in your cloth and colander (make sure it's strong enough)

Paneer cheese needs 10:1 ratio of full cream milk to lemon juice (depends on lemon variety) to fully curdle

For 1 litre or milk full cream milk, try a 2Kg weight for the first 15 to 30 minutes, Then load up to 5Kg for a few hours

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Try goat milk, and most assuredly raw milk. I use about 2/3 cup of vinegar per gallon, and a friend saves the cream-heavy stuff for me. Heat to 180, add acid, curdle 10 minutes, then strain, ball, press, etc. I think boiling is a mistake - as soon as you hit 180F, add the acid and stop the heat. Also, once the block is pressed, soak in ice water for 3 hours before unwrapping - this GREATLY improves the texture. Using this method, I get paneer I can slice and add to palak no problem.

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i have been into trying cheese making myself lately, and i've run into all the problems you listed. it all boils down to pasturization, or more specifically, OVER-pasturization. the two things i've read that are worth trying, in my opinion, are

1) if you live in california (where it's legal to do so), Whole Foods sells raw milk.

2) buy from a local dairy. if they have to deliver close by, the chance is that they will not over-pasturize their product.

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Regarding the failure I had with raw milk, I was wondering if perhaps since the temperature is the problem, that actually bringing the milk to a boil before pouring in the acid can cause this as well in otherwise unaffected milk. Next time I'll try pouring it long before it boils. –  neuviemeporte Jan 3 '11 at 11:38
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Crumbly paneer that does not hold together well can be caused by premature addition of the coagulent (lime juice or vinegar or any other acidic substance). Adding the acid before milk starts boiling can cause paneer to be crumbly. Make sure milk is boiling well, after which add the acid. Also, as others have pointed out, use whole milk and as much pressure as possible to squeeze out the water.

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To make the paneer firm press the curdled milk between two flat plates, and keep some heave object over them. Let this stay for 1-2 hours. This make the paneer firm and solid.

In the restaurants usually they fry the paneer cubes in some amount of oil, which makes it chewy.

I usually prepare a large block of paneer and store it in the refrigerator.
And whenever i have to use it, i soak it in hot water for some time and it comes out as freshly prepared.

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Plates are a great idea. They fit nicely in the fridge and you can use other fridge items to add weight easily. –  jabolotai May 21 '13 at 9:06
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In order to get firmer paneer, you need to first squeeze out the moisture, and then knead the dough together with a small amount of all purpose flour.

Reference: http://showmethecurry.com/odds-ends/homemade-paneer-indian-cheese.html

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I'm giving you slightly contrarian advice axed on typical indian household recipe. A) if I understand right your main problem is that the paneer crumbles in your curry. B) unlike Indian restaurants in western countries, paneer which is tough and squeaks between teeth is not considered right! Paneer should be soft but firm and hold together. Follow my sister's recipe below. I use it and has never failed. C) apart from ingredients, having right tools is important. In this case you'll need a muslin cloth to hang your paneer.

Ingredients: use full fat / whole milk, slightly old yogurt beaten smooth (not Greek yogurt- plain danone yogurt) and very little citric acid.

Method: bring milk to a boil and set burner on simmer. Add a pinch of salt to the milk. Start stirring the milk. While stirring, pour your beaten yogurt into the milk. The ratio of milk to yogurt is 4:1 I.e. 250ml yogurt to a litre of milk. Add two tea spoons of citric acid. Your milk will start separating. Now in a pot, put the muslin cloth in the base such that the sides hang out. Pour the separated mixture in the pot. Pick up the cloth from the sides and bring the edges together and hang it like a knapsack for 10-15mins to drain all excess water. DO NOT PRESS THE PANEER WITH WEIGHT OR PRESSURE. As contrarian as it sounds, little moisture is required to retain softness and taste. Once drained, untie muslin cloth and cut your paneer into cubes.

Another thing- paneer should be added almost towards the end of the curry cooking and turned over just once. In our zest to coat all cubes evenly we often turn it too many times. Just let it rest, the gravy will take care of even coating. Another trick to ensure even coating is to cover the curry pan after putting in the paneer and simmer for 5 mins. The spicy steam which builds inside coats the paneer cubes.

Remember, paneer is not a melting cheese. It is more akin to tofu than it is to fresh mozzarella or cheddar. Don't treat it like a European "Cheese".

Best of luck and let me know the results !

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