My first taste of Panir was prompted by a co-worker. Stunned that I’d never tasted, or even heard of the cheese, she told me that I must go pick some up. I confess that the only one I’ve ever tasted is the one that Cowgirl Creamery makes and they call it “Niloufer’s Panir”. That is, Niloufer Ichaporia King, the author of My Bombay Kitchen.
Cowgirl Creamery is a cheese shop located in Point Reyes Station, but they have an outpost in the Ferry Plaza Building in San Francisco, which is virtually exploding with really great cheese, and customers who want it. The cheeses they make find their way onto restaurant menus across the bay area, and they also distribute artisan-made cheeses from small-time producers in America and Europe alike.
If you happen to live close enough to either of their locations to pick up some of their panir, do it! But I’ll warn you of two things. First, they don’t make it year-round, so you may want to call first. (Though I’m sure you’ll be able to find something else you love while you’re there). Second, a little, tiny container costs something upwards of $6.00! But it’s well worth it, and as you’ll see if you make this recipe, cheese making can be costly. Especially if you’re using organic milk. A whole lotta milk gives you a little cheese and a lotta whey! (But if you’re creative, you can use that delicious whey instead of pouring it down the drain.)
My understanding is that there are two types of panir. There is a firm version that can actually be cooked with, and there is a soft version that’s more along the lines of cream cheese. This second version is what Cowgirl Creamery makes and it is also the type that this recipe makes.
I have no idea what Cowgirl Creamery’s recipe is, but I was thrilled to open up our restaurant copy of My Bombay Kitchen and find Niloufer’s recipe there. I made it right away and really like it.
And as for “panir in the spring”, I think it is the best season for pairing it with fruits and vegetables. Usually I eat it on crackers, but thin slabs of toasted bread is great too. You could top it with raw, tender peas, and a little black pepper. Or how about thin-sliced raw asparagus? Or even raw, young fava beans. Plain ol’ extra-virgin olive oil is great too. But I also love to eat it with strawberries. And as soon as the rest of the summer berries come in to season, you’ll just be in heaven!
It goes without saying that you should use the best quality milk, cream and yogurt you can get your hands on. A cheese like this sings of the flavor of the dairy itself. (Happy cows make happy cheese, right!?)
Panir from My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King
yields 1-1/2 cups cheese
Note that a good, tart yogurt works best in this recipe. If your yogurt is fairly mild, you may need to add up to a 1/2 lemons’s worth of juice to help it curdle. Stir it in over moderate heat.
- 1 cup cow or goat’s milk yogurt
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 4 cups whole milk
Stir together the yogurt, salt and cream. Set aside. Put the milk in a pan roomy enough to allow it to climb up as it boils without overflowing. Set the saucepan over moderately high heat. When the milk comes to a boil, let it come all the way up to the top of the pan.
Lift the pan off the burner while the milk subsides. Do this four more times. After the fifth boil subsides, add the reserved yogurt-cream mixture and quickly whisk it into the milk until it just begins to separate. It should look like a cloudy sky breaking up, not a solid overcast. (Those are her words exactly, and I just love them!)
Pour into a non-reactive mesh strainer lined with muslin or a thin kitchen towel, placed over a large bowl.
After most of the whey has dripped through into the bowl, about 15-30 minutes, fold the cloth over the curds, and place a 1-pound weight on top. Save the whey for ricotta, making dal, or for cooking beans or lentils.