Mar 27, 2012

Cheese Making 101: Ricotta

As if I don't already have more projects started than I can possibly complete, I've gotten all gung-ho about learning to make my own yogurt and cheese.  So I've started buying a gallon of raw cow's milk from a local farmer each week.  It's kind of on the down low - the raw milk issue is yet unresolved in my state.  If you're in the know, you will find a van in a specified place for a couple hours once a week…you walk up, get handed great big ball jars of fresh, unlabeled milk from the back seat, then pre-pay for whatever amount you'd like to pick up next week.  Covert!  

I haven't bought cow's milk for years because it upsets my stomach to an embarrassing degree, if you know what I mean.  Suddenly, I'm buying enough for a family of four.  The really amazing thing is that although I'm lactose intolerant, I consumed a whole cup of this fresh, raw milk without incident.  I shit you not!  That is to say that I did not shit all night as I normally would if I consumed that amount of milk.  I read that lactose intolerant people can drink raw milk, but I don't believe everything I read on the internet.  C'mon.  It seems to be true for me though, and I'm really excited about it!  Do you know how many years it's been since I've had a glass of milk with a home made cookie?!  Decades.  So even if I never get around to becoming a serious cheese maker, I will definitely be getting around to dunking some cookies.  

For my first cheese making experiment, I chose an easy one - ricotta.  It was really easy, and I think it came out as it was supposed to, although it's pretty different from store bought ricotta.  Perhaps it was because the recipe called for milk and a lot of cream, but I used only whole milk.  Instead of being creamy and spreadable like store bought ricotta, it was more like curds of fresh mozzarella - a bit rubbery, and definitely not spreadable.  Totally tasted like fresh mozz to me, too.  That's cool, because I actually use mozzarella frequently and rarely use ricotta.  I added some dried basil to the finished cheese and will be using it in a lasagna tomorrow.
But what about that creamy, spreadable store bought ricotta that I love?  My first two attempts at making yogurt created something indiscernible from that type of ricotta cheese.  And it was even easier than the ricotta making method I tried today!  I'll be working out my yogurt machine ricotta making method over the next few days and will let you know how it works.  

For now, here's how I made ricotta cheese with raw cow's milk using a recipe from the book Artisan Cheese Making At Home.
I saw this method for holding a thermometer with a clip in cook's illustrated.  kewl.

One quart of whole, raw cow's milk plus half a teaspoon of kosher salt (one quart of milk will yeild about a cup of cheese.)

One and a half tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.

It starts to curdle as soon as the lemon juice is added, but not much.

Gradually heat the milk, with frequent stirring, to about 190 degrees.  It'll really start to curdle at that temp.

Holding steady at 190 degrees.

It takes a while, but the curds grow in size.

Still growing...

Okay, so I've had the milk at 190 degrees for around 10 minutes and the curds aren't getting bigger any more.  

But the milk is still white, which means there's more cheese to be had from it, so I added another teaspoon of lemon juice.  

That did it!  the milk went from opaque white to a yellowish, translucent color.  That means the milk is fully separated into curds and whey - it's done.

I sort of followed the recipe in this book.  Except that I'm using whole milk instead of milk plus cream, and I'm using lemon juice instead of dried citric acid.  

Pour the curds and whey into a strainer lined with cheesecloth.  

Let the cheese drain.

Fresh ricotta up close.

I wanted to extract more liquid, so I tightened up the cheesecloth and let it drain a few more minutes.  you can even squeeze the liquid out if you wanna hurry it up.

I guess that's ricotta.  It tastes sweeter and more flavorful than anything you get at the grocery store.  Must be the local raw milk.  

When I squished it between my fingers, it didn't smear the way store bought ricotta does.  Maybe because I didn't use the cream?

It's easy to see how you could compact this ricotta into a firm, perhaps sliceable, mass.  Which I will try next time.

I broke the curds up with a fork.

I added a little more salt.

And I added some really fragrant dried organic basil my sister gave me.  I can't wait to put this on our next grilled pizza!


1 comment:

  1. Now that I've done a little more home cheese making research, I realize that what I made here is really Queso Blanco. The ingredients and process for ricotta and queso blanco (or farmers cheese if you're not latin) are very similar - the differences seem to be the amount of cream and how big you let the curds get before straining them.

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