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Paneer (Hindi: पनीर , from Persian پنير sometimes spelled Panir or Paner), is the most common Indian form of cheese. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese that is similar to acid-set fresh mozzarella and queso blanco, except that it does not have salt added. Like mozzarella, Bengali paneer is beaten or kneaded. However, other types of paneer are simply pressed. Paneer is one of the few types of cheese indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, and is most commonly used in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine. Unlike most cheeses in the world, the making of paneer does not involve rennet; it is therefore completely vegetarian. Paneer is a primary source of protein for Buddhists (typically those of South Asian origin) who adhere to vegetarian but not to vegan diets. A similar Indian cheese is Chhéna (pronounced ) which is more crumbly and is used in desserts such as Rasgulla.
Paneer is known in North India and Pakistan by the same name; however, in Orissa and Bengal it is known by the name "Chhena" and in south India, by names derived from "Panneer" and "Channa" (not to be confused with Chana, the Indian name for the chick pea). A variety of the same is called Chakka(Marathi), which is used to make Shrikhand, a popular dessert in Maharashtra (and Western India).
To prepare paneer, food acid (usually simple lemon juice) is added to hot milk to separate the curds from the whey. The curds are then drained in a muslin cloth or cheesecloth and excess water is pressed out.
From this point, the preparation of paneer diverges based on proposed use. In Mughlai cuisine, the paneer-cloth is put under a heavy weight, such as a stone slab, for two to three hours, and is then cut into cubes for use in curries. Pressing for a shorter time (approximately 20 minutes), results in a softer, fluffier cheese. Oriya cuisine and Bengali cuisine demand paneer-dough produced by beating or kneading the paneer by hand into a dough-like consistency. The acid used in the production of paneer by coagulation is acetic or citric acid.
Paneer is the only type of cheese traditionally known in South Asia. The ruling aristocracy in the second millennium AD was of Turkic (Central Asian) and Persian origin, and it was they who introduced paneer to South Asia. Due to this, in large parts of north India, Paneer is an aspirational food, and defines sumptuousness in vegetarian feasts.
Unlike most other cheeses, paneer does not melt at normal cooking temperatures, and is used in many Mughlai curry dishes. It is very popular when wrapped in dough and deep-fried or served with either spinach (palak paneer) or peas (matar paneer).
Eastern Indian cuisineEdit
In Bangladesh and eastern India, two kinds of cheese are commonly found: ponir (a hard paneer) and chhena (a soft paneer).
Ponir is a salty semi-hard cheese made in villages across Bangladesh, and Orissa and West Bengal in India. Its sharp flavor and high salt content contrasts with the softer, milder chhena. Ponir is typically eaten in slices at teatime with biscuits or bread, or deep-fried in a light batter.
While Mughlai cuisine uses paneer in spicy curry dishes, the use of chhena in Oriya cuisine or Bengali cuisine is restricted to sweetmeats, for which this region is justly renowned. Most Oriya and Bengali sweets feature chhena beaten by hand into dough-like consistency and then used in crafting the sweetmeat. The chhena used in such cases is manufactured by a slightly different procedure from Mughlai Paneer; it is drained but not pressed, so that some moisture is retained, which makes for a soft, malleable consistency.
The Shrikhand is a staple dessert for all festive occasions in Western India, especially in Maharashtra. The raw material needed to make this dessert (called Chakka) is an unpressed variation of the Paneer. Instead of being pressed into a hard and crumbly texture, the yogurt is simple hung in a muslin cloth and the whey allowed to drip naturally for 3 to 4 hours.