My Trip to India and the Cheese I Brought Home
I am walking down a recently flooded street in forested Kolkata, holding my sandals to keep them dry, having a grammatically challenged Bengali conversation with my translator, when I saw an old woman bent over a steamy pot outside her house, stirring a milky white substance. Upon closer observation I realized that she was making cheese. I was told later that she was making panir, a traditional Indian cheese, made from cow’s milk that is kneaded until smooth and fried – the Indian answer to the Wisconsin cheese curd.
As an aspiring cheese maker and lover of everything Indian, I know I needed to try to make this cheese.
I should mention that I’ve got my hands on some raw milk. I’m not going to tell you where I got it from since it can be illegal to sell raw milk in this country – which I will say is a culinary tragedy. If we could keep our cows free of hormones and other weird chemicals we too could enjoy delicious creamy cheese – but I digress.
So for this cheese you will need…
1.5 tsp of citric acid
1 gallon of milk
Heat the milk to a rolling boil and add the citric acid. Turn off the heat and stir the milk gently until large curds form. Let it stand for a few minutes until the curds sink to the bottom. Spoon the curds into a muslin laced colander and put a plate on top of the curds. Place a five-pound weight on top of the plate (or something that weighs about five pounds – that copy of Ulysses you’ll never read?) And let that sit for 45 minutes. After your break, unwrap the cheese and place on a clean work surface. Grab a handful of the crumbly cheese and squeeze it into a ball. Do that with the rest of the cheese and set aside.
If you’re going to fry it right away, start melting the butter. If you’re waiting for your dinner party later this week, seal the cheese balls in a air-tight container in the ‘fridge until you’re ready to fry it.
If you’re making it now, melt enough butter to create a thin layer of melted butter on the bottom of your frying pan. Put all the cheese balls in the pan and cook on medium-high turning over frequently to avoid burning. Crack fresh pepper over the frying cheese. Once they’re browned all over serve them hot to your unsuspecting friends – they’ll like it, promise.
It a little taste of West Bengal without leaving your local Chicago. The night that I made this cheese for my friends I made some coconut curry chicken. If you mix the panir with the curried chicken it will bring you right back to the unbearably humid, beautifully cultured, amazingly friendly Kolkata.