I love making paneer. It makes me feel very competent. It’s one of the easiest—if not, the easiest—cheeses to make which makes it doubly worth it.
Simple enough: bring milk to the boil, add acid of some kind (lemon, yogurt or vinegar) and let the curds separate from the whey. Strain in a cheesecloth, et voilà! Cheese!
Wait, isn’t that how you make ricotta too? Although it’s fairly common to find recipes for paneer and ricotta used interchangeably, ricotta is technically cheese that is made by adding acid to leftover whey. Ricotta—Italian for ‘recooked’—is made by recooking the whey leftover from making other cheeses (most often, mozzarella.) Since some amount of protein still remains in the whey after making mozzarella, acid is added to extract the curds from it. This resulting cheese is ricotta. Speaking of technicalities though, some purists would argue that because of this two-step process, ricotta is not even a cheese but a by-product or derivative of it. (If you haven’t realized already, I’m all about the factoids!)
Albeit quite straight-forward, the key to getting that perfect texture is in the details (hence the excessively detailed recipe below.) For example, continuing to boil the whey after the acid has been added to it makes the paneer very hard. I also find that making paneer with yogurt has resulted in the softest texture for me. And to achieve a soft-set paneer to be used in fritters etc, you want the texture to be creamy (not crumbly), so strain for a shorter period of time. I might be breaking some rules when I say this, but storing the paneer in its whey is something I swear by and can’t recommend enough.