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Paneer cheese is a type of Indian soft cheese which is made using an acid setting technique. Because paneer cheese is made with the use of acid, rather than rennet, it is safe for vegetarians to consume, and in fact paneer is a cornerstone of Indian vegetarian cuisine. This cheese is often available at Indian markets, and it is also extremely easy to make at home; in addition to being used for Indian food, paneer cheese can be used like any other soft farmer's cheese.
Like other cheeses, paneer is made by separating curds and whey, draining the curds, and then pressing the curds to create a firm block of cheese. Paneer is considered a farmer's cheese, meaning that it is soft and it is eaten fresh, within a few days of the date when it is made. Depending on how the paneer is processed, it can be firm enough to cut into cubes and fry, or it may be more soft and crumbly. Many people compare paneer to queso fresco, another type of farmer's cheese.
To make paneer cheese, one gallon (four liters) of milk is mixed with around a tablespoon of acid like vinegar, lime or lemon juice, which will stimulate a reaction that causes the milk to curdle. The temperature of the milk used in paneer cheese is not as crucial as that of cheeses made with rennet; most people bring the milk to a simmer, not quite allowing it to boil, before adding the acid and stirring slowly. As the milk is stirred, curds will start to form; if they don't, more acid can be added.
Once curds start forming, the milk/acid mixture can be allowed to sit for a few minutes, allowing more curds to precipitate out from the whey. After five to 10 minutes, the mixture should be poured through a cheesecloth lined colander, allowing the whey to fall through and trapping the curds. Then, the ends of the cheesecloth can be brought together and twisted to press out more of the whey. Most people hang their paneer cheese for a few hours to allow it to fully drain.
After draining, the paneer cheese can be pressed in a mold. The longer the cheese is pressed, the firmer it will get; it is advisable to do the pressing under refrigeration so that the cheese does not become contaminated. Once the cheese has been pressed for several hours, it is ready to be served.
Traditionally, people do not work salt into paneer cheese. This means that it has a very mild, fresh flavor, but it also means that the cheese does not have a very long shelf life, without the preservative action of salt. Therefore, it is a good idea to use or freeze paneer within a few days.