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)
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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