WHAT IS PANEER?
Traditionally, paneer is a cheese made with citrus juice and milk. Originally, buffalo milk was used more than cow’s milk. However, since the discovery that buffalo milk can be harder to digest, cow’s milk has replaced it as the central ingredient. Apetina®Paneer uses citric acid in place of lemon juice, which results in a milder flavour, making the cheese more versatile and less acidic than its earlier incarnations.
What sets it apart from other cheeses is that it has a much better ability to hold its shape. Traditionally, it's cut into cubes and either fried or roasted, creating a crisp crust and a yielding, melty middle, which is ideal for balancing out heat in a dish or as the blank canvas on which to build flavours.
WHERE DOES PANEER COME FROM?
The messages are mixed on this one. Most people associate Paneer with India. However, some research suggests that it originated in Portugal and was introduced to Persia, which we now know as Iran, somewhere around the 17th Century. Its name is said to come from the Turkish word, ‘peynir’, which simply means ‘cheese’. However, other schools of thought suggest that Paneer started its life in North-west Asia, possibly in Afghanistan. The theory is that it was chanced upon by Portuguese travellers, who took it with them into India, where it gained enormous popularity.
HOW IS PANEER MADE?
The method of making Paneer cheese hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Essentially, it involves separating milk curds from the whey, so that they coagulate and form cheese. This is achieved by adding citric acid to milk and squeezing the whey water through cheesecloth or sieve.
In its earliest form, it was made using buffalo milk. This is because of the reverence that Hindus have for the cow, as part of their religious beliefs. In Hinduism, the cow is seen as a life-giving creature, due to the sustenance provided by its milk. Spoiling that milk was seen as sinful, and so the buffalo was drafted in for cheese-creating duties.
Also, as lemons were virtually exclusive to the Himalayas back then, other ingredients were used for the coagulation process, including bark, berries, sour leaves, and yoghurt.
HOW DO YOU COOK PANEER?
Because paneer is unsalted and unaged, it lends itself to a variety of cuisines and cooking methods. As it holds its shape better than most cheeses, it can be fried, roasted, mashed, or simply added to hot and spicy dishes and stews. Marinating the cheese in oil and spices exploits its mildness, allowing it to balance out other ingredients, such as chillies and pepper.
However, the standout quality that makes paneer so revered is its ability to hold its form. While other cheeses will either crisp up or dissolve into a gooey mess, Paneer remains more or less intact. Frying or roasting will create a glassy crust, housing a melting middle, adding a pop of creaminess to hot and spicy meals.
A forgiving ingredient, you don’t have to worry too much about the cooking temperature. Don’t be shy with herbs and spices, as paneer cheese is the perfect vehicle for flavour. Marinating it will help it absorb the essence of your primary ingredients or, use it unflavoured to temper any stronger tastes.
WHAT ARE THE CLASSIC PANEER DISHES?
Because of its long-standing relationship with spicy food, you’ll find paneer cheese on the menu at any self-respecting Indian restaurant. Saag paneer is a popular side-dish, combining the cheese with the bolder flavours of ginger, garlic, and spinach. Paneer makhani is another favourite, using the cheese to offset the sweetness of a dish that uses sugar and garam masala to create a thick and unctuous gravy.
However, top of heap belongs to paneer tikka masala, where the cheese is used in place of meat and adds an extra, buttery dimension to an Indian classic. While we’re at it, let’s not forget the paneer pasanda pakora, where paneer is battered, fried, and served with mint chutney. And why not try our recipe for butter chicken-style paneer?
HOW CAN I USE PANEER?
Because of its mild, nutty taste and shape-holding abilities, paneer has now worked its way into countless cuisines. Use it in your enchiladas, pop it in your pad thai or cheer up your chilli.
Easy to use, and with endless possibilities, Apetina®Paneer is the ideal ingredient to make even the simplest of dishes sing. It can be used as a filling in wraps, to give your veggies that extra lift or thread it onto kebab skewers for a delicious twist, or fry it and add to salads like our paneer bowl recipe.
Because it holds its shape so well, paneer is ideal for barbecues. With other cheeses, you lose a lot to melting, and the subsequent spillage and burning. Resilient and robust, paneer will cheerfully char, without giving you additional cleaning and scraping duties once the feast is finished.
However, paneer isn’t just for exotic and spicy dishes. Adding it to your mid-week meals can elevate your dishes from bog-standard to decidedly delicious, giving toothsome texture to your veggies.
Easy to use, marvellously multipurpose and with a flavour that complements rather than dominates, Apetina®Paneer is quickly becoming a go-to ingredient for chefs and home cooks, everywhere. For further inspiration, check out our recipes using Apetina®Paneer, which will show you how to make the most out of this champion of cheeses.