What Is Paneer And What Does It Taste Like?

If you've ever eaten at an Indian restaurant, chances are that you've tasted the white cheese-like ingredient better known as paneer. Whether in your saag paneer, matar paneer, or paneer tikka, the ingredient is a staple in many classic Indian dishes (via Marigold Maison). 

Mairgold Maison explains that paneer is a south Asian soft cheese made by curdling hot milk with lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt, or citric acid. Since no rennet is involved in the coagulation process of making paneer, it happens to be a vegetarian cheese. This, Jamie Oliver says, makes it a popular choice of protein that works for the meat-free diet followed by many in India. 

The process of making paneer does not require any ageing or culturing, which means that paneer is very easy to make at home — unlike many other cheeses — also adding to its popularity. According to this recipe by chef Sukhi Singh, all you need is a gallon of whole milk, cheesecloth, buttermilk, and some lemon juice, and voila! Making fresh paneer at home can be as easy as that.

Cooking with paneer

Unlike most other cheeses, paneer does not melt. This, The Kitchn explains, is paneer's greatest strength. Chunks of paneer can be added to soups and curries, layered in sandwiches, and skewered into kebabs without the cheese turning into a gooey, melty mess!

Marigold Maison compares the taste of paneer to that of fresh cheeses like Italy's ricotta or cottage cheese (like the kind they sell in American supermarkets). Though these cheeses can often taste quite bland, Jamie Oliver says it is paneer's mild and milky flavor that makes it go beautifully well with strong, spicy flavors. The outlet further says that the use of paneer is not simply limited to savory foods: A softer and crumblier version of paneer, known as chenna, is the star ingredient in popular Indian sweets like rasgulla and sandesh. 

Be warned though, The Kitchn suggests that paneer does not have a particularly long shelf life. Store leftovers in the fridge if you must, but make plans to use it soon.