Paneer, a creamy, crumbly, certainly not melty, unaged cheese is an all-time favourite, not only in India but across the Asian sub-continent. This smooth, spongy- to- touch, dairy food, with its distinctive flavour, is used widely in diverse cuisines to prepare breakfast meals, main course dishes, starters, appetizers even desserts.
Let’s dig and delve deeper into the history of this white, highly versatile delight.
Claims to the origin of this fermented milk product are many; Indian, Afghani, Portuguese, to name a few. Ancient Indian religious texts even mention two types of cheese -one with pores, one without.
Then there are different origins of the word paneer itself. There’s the Persian or Armenian name ‘panir’ and the Turkish ‘peynir’, all referring to different varieties of preserved cheese.
Nomads from South West Asia with their herds of goats, cows and other dairy animals were known to have diverse methods of preserving milk by converting it into cheeses and other products.
Some say paneer was introduced to the North-western part of South Asia by Afghan and Iranian travellers.
Others, that it all began with the Portuguese in West Bengal, India. They introduced the technique of splitting milk with acidic ingredients to make products like paneer and chhena. Even today these cheeses are used to make mouth-watering sweet dishes like rasgullas.
The stories are as numerous as the multiple cuisines making use of this irresistible coagulated milk product that can be cooked with a variety of ingredients.
Dairy products closely related to paneer feature in global cuisines as well. Kama, Kask and Korut from Iran, Anati from Cyprus, Queso Blanco or Queso Fresco from Spain and America are distant cousins of this Indian cottage cheese.
Unlike cheeses the world over, the making of paneer is simpler and way easier. Milk is first heated and then some acidic ingredient (vinegar, lemon) added, to split it up into curd and whey. The curd is separated out and then pressed into blocks of fresh white paneer.
This soft marble white cheese prepared in different ways, not only by Indians but by paneer lovers the world over, is wholesome and nutritious and forms the base material for a variety of dishes and sweets. Even if you haven’t tried it as yet, this awesome homemade cheese is worth a first!