Paneer (Hindi: पनीर panīr, from Persian پنير panir) is the most common Persian and South Asian cheese. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice or other food acid. The process is similar to queso blanco, except that paneer does not have salt added. Paneer is very closely linked to the Turkish Peynir which is also strained and squeezed the same way
Most varieties of paneer are simply pressed into a cube and then sliced or chopped, although the eastern Indian variety (known as ছানা chhana in Bengali and ଛେନା chhena in Oriya) is beaten or kneaded like mozzarella, and crumbles more easily than the North Indian variant of paneer. Paneer is one of the few types of cheese indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, and is widely used in Indian cuisine and even some Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cuisine. Unlike most cheeses in the world, the making of paneer does not involve rennet, and is therefore completely vegetarian. Paneer is a source of protein for Hindus who adhere to vegetarian as opposed to vegan diets.
Firm tofu has a similar texture and consistency so it can be used in place of paneer as a non-dairy substitute.
Paneer is a protein-rich food. To prepare paneer, food acid (usually lemon juice, vinegar, or yogurt) is added to hot milk to separate the curds from the whey. The curds are then drained in a muslin cloth or cheesecloth and excess water is pressed out. The resulting paneer is dipped in chilled water for 2-3 hours to give it a good texture and appearance.
From this point, the preparation of paneer diverges based on its use. In Mughlai cuisine, the paneer, wrapped in cloth, is put under a heavy weight, such as a stone slab, for 2-3 hours, and is then cut into cubes for use in curries. Pressing for a shorter time (approximately 20 minutes), results in a softer, fluffier cheese. Oriya cuisine and Arabic cuisine require a paneer dough beaten or kneaded by hand into a dough-like consistency.
While Mughlai cuisine uses paneer in spicy curry dishes, the use of chhana in Oriya cuisine or Bengali cuisine is mostly restricted to sweets, for which this region is renowned. Most Oriya and Bengali sweets feature chhana beaten by hand into dough-like consistency and then used in crafting the sweetmeat. The rasgulla is the classical sweet made by this method. It features plain chhana beaten by hand into the right consistency, then shaped into balls which are soaked in syrup.
The chhana or chhena used in such cases is manufactured by a slightly different procedure from Mughlai paneer; it is drained but not pressed, so that some moisture is retained, which makes for a soft, malleable consistency. It may, however, be pressed slightly into small cubes and curried to form a dalna in Oriya and Bengali cuisines.
Anari is very similar in taste and texture to fresh Indian Paneer. Anari is a fresh mild whey cheese produced in Cyprus. Although much less known than other Cypriot cheeses (eg halloumi), it has started to gain popularity following recent publicity exposure. One of the main industrial producers on the island won a silver medal award for anari in the 2005 World Cheese Awards in the UK.