Where Does Paneer Cheese Come From?
Where does paneer cheese come from? Although this exotic cheese is considered a famous Indian cuisine, its origin and history are not as clear-cut as you may imagine.
What Is Paneer Cheese
Paneer cheese is an Indian cheese that can be served immediately after making without an aging requirement. Because its production process doesn’t require aging, many people don’t actually call it cheese, but simply a mass consisting of whole milk’s protein and fat. In India, paneer cheese is eaten on its own or used as a substitute for meat, making it a favorite dish for lacto-vegetarians. Paneer can be served in various ways. When served alone, it gives up its soft and chewy texture and fresh milky taste. Paneer cheese has become so popular that it can always be found in restaurants serving Indian foods. Even McDonald’s India serves a number of dishes with paneer cheese as their primary ingredient.
Where Does Paneer Cheese Come From?
Although considered a famous Indian cuisine, paneer cheese doesn’t actually come from India. The word paneer itself is of the Persian origin and paneer cheese is not an exclusive Indian cuisine because it is also found in most Central and South Asian countries from Turkey to Afghanistan. Paneer cheese may acquire its exclusive Indian trait because of its prominence on most—if not all—Indian restaurants around the world.
The art of making paneer cheese has actually been popular in India since early in Indian history. Shreds of evidence showed that the processing of milk products using heat and acid had actually been prominent in India at least since the first century in the CE calendar. The art of paneer cheese making might be introduced by Persian travelers from the west because, in India, the acidulation of milk in the past was against the local norm.
Given the fact that India was situated on a thriving trade route for Persians in the west and Southeast Asians and East Asians in the east, it was rather easy for Indians to adopt culinary arts that came from foreign lands. Paneer cheese is definitely not the only Indian cuisine with a non-Indian origin. Many Indian foods, such as Rajma, which was actually Mexican; Samosa, a Middle Eastern dish; and Dal chawal, which came from Nepal, are clear pieces of evidence that many Indian foods are not necessarily Indian exclusives. It is thus quite normal to say that paneer cheese might come from a foreign land before it thrived in India.
The Idea that Paneer Is Originally Indian
There is another prevalent view affirming that the art of making paneer is originally Indian and not something that is imported from foreign lands. This view is widely held among Indians, especially because all ingredients, tools, and methods to make paneer are widely available in India even since before the military and cultural invasions of foreign civilizations. In fact, in India, there were already some cheeses that were known to be originally Indian, such as kalari, bandel, and chhurpi. The reason why paneer had a foreign name was that there was no unified original Indian name for it until the Persian introduced the similar cheese that they called paneer. Since then, all cheeses that are made using similar methods are simply called paneer.
Although all ingredients for paneer were already widely available even since the coming of the Aryans to India, the art of cheese making by curdling cow’s milk was not considered a popular cook preparation art in India because milk curdling was considered taboo. Due to the high esteem given to animals and due to the nutritious and delicious qualities of animal-based foods, the Ayurveda mentioned animal-based foods as the highest in terms of value. This was the reason why curdling, which was basically spoiling, cow’s milk was considered against the norm. This would later contribute to the association of paneer more to foreigners than to Indians.
So, where does paneer cheese come from? The answer may not be as objective as you want it to be because of the debate and because different people have different views regarding the origin of this delicious Indian cheese.
The Evolution of Paneer Cheese Making
Today, there are two recognized ways to make paneer cheese: the traditional way using either animal-based or plant-based rennet and the Portuguese way. The traditional way of paneer cheese making was the original way for making the cheese that had been used since many centuries ago. This method requires the milk to be stored inside the stomach of an herbivore, where the rennet will separate the milk’s solids from the liquid. The solid part will then be used for making paneer. Plant-based rennet can also be used, especially because plant-based rennet is easier to prepare and because it is considered a better choice for vegetarians.
The modern way of making paneer is originally called the Portuguese way because it was the Portuguese who introduced this method when they made the channa, the South Asian cheese. In this method of making paneer, an acidic substance is added to the milk to separate the solids from the liquid. Lemon juice and vinegar are the most commonly used acids for separating the milk’s solid. Both the solid and the liquid will then be used separately. The solid will then be used to make the cheese and the liquid will be used for a variety of dishes, such as roti and cake dough.
Both the traditional way of making paneer and the Portuguese way are still widely used now, although the use of an acidic substance is much preferred because it is considered the simpler and easier method.
You can serve paneer in many different ways. Paneer is easy and cheap to make and it can be used as a substitute for meat. Any dishes that use meat can use paneer as an alternative. In India, paneer is commonly skewered before being cooked, added to a burger, cooked together with spinach and chickpeas, and used in fritters. Where does paneer cheese come from? Answering this question might not be the best thing to talk about paneer because there are many delicious dishes to enjoy if you focus more on serving paneer than on asking about its origin.