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?
Eating his curds and whey…
Cheese making: How fascinating.
Question: what about skim cottage cheese? how do they do it without all the fat?
Mozzarella is definitely the next step- it’s easy. Basically, you just microwave the curds, get a little more whey out of them, and then knead them in to mozzarella. It’s a little like making taffy, but more fun because it’s cheese.
The orangey bits might just be burnt milk from the bottom of the pan. That happens to me sometimes when I make paneer at home.
My boyfriend and I just made palek paneer on New Year’s Eve. I got the recipe off of the Food Network and it was bitchin’. Whenever we order it at the Indian by our house, there is never enough cheese. The cheese was super easy to make and DEE-licious. 2009 and is definantly turning into Make your Own Cheese Year at ours. I didn’t use a slotted spoon, just put the cheesecloth in a colander and poured the pot into that.
BS served me this cheese with warm pita bread. Delish.
I always thought ricotta was what happens when you’re making mozzarella, so I don’t see why not make mozzarella!
Looks delicious! Cooking Light had a similar recipe a few years ago, but I never got around to trying it. Now I’m inspired.
I’ve been inspired by the book Animal Vegetable Miracle to try making my own soft cheeses. Maybe we should stake out the cheese guy at Fairway and watch how they do the mozz!
I am trying this first thing tomorrow. I think I’m going to go the mozzarella route, though. Might as well, since you’re already halfway there.
Oh, brilliant! I love it. I’ve had cheese made this way before, and it’s so very delicious!
a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse
I made homemade ricotta a few months ago using an even simpler recipe– just combine a gallon of milk and a quart of buttermilk and you will get the same results. By the way, I used skim milk and it turned out just fine.
i am so fucking proud. but i might even be prouder by your blatant attempt for presents. im so adopting that trend.