According to the government waste scheme Wrap, “more than half a million tonnes of dairy products are wasted every year – with the majority thrown away in our homes.” And, while the pandemic has increased food industry waste, especially milk, which has a notably short shelf life, it’s not all bad news: Wrap says self-reported food waste in the home dropped substantially during the first lockdown, and is still 22% lower than it was in 2019.
If you do have an excess of milk, it freezes well, though if it’s full-fat, it may well split, so is best used in cooking after defrosting. Another way to preserve an abundance of fresh milk is to turn it into cheese. Paneer is particularly easy to make, because it involves only the simple addition of lemon juice. It’s best made with full-fat and ideally raw, or at least unhomogenised, milk, although it will work with any kind really. Add to curries, stir through salads or cut into cubes and fry to serve alongside a meal.
Making your own cheese can be a simple way to save excess milk, and add weeks to its shelf life. Paneer makes a nice alternative to other cheeses such as halloumi and ricotta, especially when tossed through salads, or fry and use in curries such as palak paneer. The whey left over from the cheese-making process can be turned into a sweet umami dressing by adding some honey or sugar and reducing it to a thick syrup. Use it to finish salads or to glaze vegetables for roasting.
Whole milk, preferably raw or unhomogenised
1–2 tbsp lemon juice per 500ml milk
Measure your milk in millilitres, then pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring regularly.
Turn off the heat, wait for a few minutes, then add about one tablespoon of lemon juice for every 500ml milk. Stir gently until the milk begins to curdle, adding more lemon juice, if necessary.
Leave to rest for about three minutes, then pour through a muslin or clean tea towel set inside a colander placed over a bowl to catch the whey. Using the cloth, squeeze any remaining whey out of the milk solids and leave to drain for about half an hour.
Transfer the wrapped cheese to a shallow bowl or plate, place a heavy weight on top and leave for about two hours.
Unwrap the cheese, transfer to a heat-proof container, then pour boiling water over the top, to cover. Leave to cool, then store in the fridge for up to two weeks.