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Question I have been reading about how to make homemade panir (curd) cheese in your book Cooking with Kurma. Is panir the same as ricotta cheese?
(Liz Prendergast, Hoppers Crossing, Victoria, Australia)

AnswerDear Liz,
Actually ricotta and panir are rather different in quality although they look very similar, especially when freshly made.

In simple terms, all cheese starts off by the addition of a coagulant (curdling agent) to milk that has been brought to boiling point. In the wider cheese-making industry, an enzyme is added to the milk to coagulate it. This enzyme is called rennet. Mostly it is still derived from the lining of a calf's stomach, but non-animal rennets are become quite widespread. Cheeses made by using non-animal rennet are specifically very popular amongst strict vegetarians like myself. But I digress...

Anyway, when rennet is used to make cheese, the milk proteins coagulate, but the whey proteins (albuminous proteins) don't. This is evident by the fact that after the first yield of curds are extracted, the whey is still a milky colour. To make ricotta, this milky-coloured whey is then heated a second time and curdled with vinegar, and ricotta is produced from those precipitating albuminous proteins. For your information the Italian word ricotta means "re-cooked" - referring to the second boiling of the milk.

Panir cheese is made in a simpler way, by adding an acid reagent rather than rennet. Sometimes vinegar is used or lemon juice, yogurt, citric acid, or cultured buttermilk. In this method of cheese making, when the milk curdles, both the milk proteins and the whey proteins coagulate, leaving no residue for ricotta.

This method of cheese making is an ancient one and is found throughout the world in various cultures. The cheese is called panir in India, queso blanco (white cheese) in Latin America, and is also found throughout Russia, the Balkans and other Eastern European countries under various local names.

This cheese is usually pressed until firm, and, like ricotta, can be eaten fresh and raw. But unlike ricotta, it can also be grilled, pan-fried, barbequed or deep-fried, and yields a delightful golden crust. I have many delicious recipes using this cheese in my books.

Panir cheese is also used for making a vast array of delicious sweets in India, especially in Bengal. Of course ricotta can be baked, and the result is a quite pleasant firm cheese. But, in conclusion, I prefer the versatility of panir cheese.

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