Adventures in Cheesemaking
Anyone who has been following ES on twitter, or even just talked to me in real life these past few weeks, is aware that I’ve become obsessed with cheesemaking.
Well, in truth it’s been a more-talk, less-action kind of obsession, but I’ve decided I’m really into it ever since I saw a guy making fresh mozzarella at Fairway a few weeks back. He was shaping it in a metal bowl, then wrapping it up in plastic and it was warm when you bought it. This was one of those eye-opening, food-changing experiences for me, as I’d never really thought of cheese as something you could just make from milk as opposed to a food that grows on a magical cow-tree somewhere high on a hilltop in France or Italy.
So when I saw this super-simple recipe for ricotta in Bon Appetit (only three ingredients!), I had to try it. I picked up a cheesecloth at a local greenmarket (basically a glorified paper towel, it only costs a few bucks), and I was ready to cheese. Two words of warning:
1- Cheesemaking, like sausagemaking, is not for the faint of heart. With all the curdling and separating and whatnot, it gets a little gross-looking. I was doing this myself, so my photos are not highly stylized, but you’ll see how it really looks, warts and all.
2- It’s also not for those with heart problems. As with making ice cream, there’s the whole problem of realizing how much fat actually goes into making a tiny little slice of cheese. A half-gallon of milk only makes one-and-a-half cups of ricotta. Kinda intense.
If you’re still feeling brave, read on…
As I said, it’s surprisingly uncomplicated. You just put 8 cups of milk in a saucepan, add a teaspoon of salt and bring it to a simmer. This takes a good few minutes as that’s a lot of freaking milk, and you don’t want to turn the heat up too high as you’re not looking for a full boil.
When it’s simmering, add in three tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (1 lemon should do). Then stir it for a minute or two until the curds start to form. t’s pretty neat to see the milk separate like that. In addition to the curds and whey, there was some gross little stringy orange things that formed in the milk, not sure exactly what those are.
Then you just use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds out, leaving the liquid (whey I think?) behind. Once you have all the curds out, lay four layers of cheesecloth across a strainer and transfer the cheese over here to let the excess liquid drip out of the curds.
My biggest problem was that I don’t have a great slotted spoon (gift alert!), so I couldn’t get all the curds out. After scooping out about a cup of curds, I wondered if I could get the rest by just draining the liquid through a strainer. The problem here, which I probably could have identified had I just thought about it, was that the gross orangey things didn’t strain out, and I was left with cheese mixed with cross orangey things. So I kept this second part separate from my first cup of beautiful solid white cheese.
BonApp says to put it in the fridge for 3 hours, but I actually thought it tasted beautiful at this point, and in the future I might just stir it straight into pasta without even chilling it.
But as it was my first time I figured I should be following all directions. I chilled my good and bad cheeses separately. Interestingly, the one with the gross orangey stuff left in didn’t solidify together like the other one. It tastes fine and you can pick the gross parts out, so I’ll just save this batch until the good stuff it gone.
Anyway, it’s totally worth it. The ricotta is so creamy and fresh-tasting. I was afraid that after all that work it wasn’t gonna be a million times better than store-bought ricotta, but it totally is. You might not think of ricotta as something you can just eat without cooking, but it’s tasty just on a sandwich with tomato and salt.
First use: Ravioli, spinach and sausage, with a spoonful of fresh ricotta stirred in. I know, you can hardly see it, but now that I know how much fat is in ricotta, I’m using it a little more sparingly.
So now I’m really into it and want to make more complicated cheeses. Mozzarella maybe? Anyone got ideas?