Saturday, April 2, 2011

Little Miss Muffit Makes Ricotta Cheese

I was originally inspired to try making some of my own cheeses after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, which suggested the book Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses (actually I think it suggested an earlier version, but that's the one I ended up getting) as a good beginner guide to making cheese.  I've had this book for a while now, but have been kind of intimidated by all the technical terms and special equipment or ingredients you need for some of the recipes (what the heck is the difference between butter muslin and cheesecloth, anyway?).

Lately, I've been getting a hankering for lasagna though.  I managed to spring for some mozzarella cheese, after much hemming and hawing about whether I should make it, but I couldn't bear to part with the money it would cost to buy the ricotta for my lasagna.  Sure, I could use cottage cheese as a cheaper option, but it just isn't the same!  So, finally, I made a deal with myself that I could have my lasagna, if I made the ricotta.  Making ricotta was on my to-do list for a few days before I found the time and the courage to do it though.  Tonight was that night.  I still wasn't completely comfortable with the directions in Home Cheese Making though, so I looked into some other sources as well and cobbled together the following:  

Dissolve 1 tsp citric acid in 1/4 cup of water (other directions I saw said you could also use 6 tbsp vinegar or 1/2 cup of lemon juice.  I might try one of those next time!).  Pour a gallon of whole milk and the acid mixture into a large pot and heat to somewhere in the neighborhood of 185-200 degrees.  Remove from heat and let stand undisturbed for 10-15 minutes.  Line a colander with "butter muslin" (I cheated and used a clean piece of cotton fabric I'd bought for some random project years ago and never made).  You don't want to use cheesecloth for this, since the holes are much too big.  Either carefully ladle the curds (chunks floating on top) onto the cloth or just dump the whole thing (different directions said different things) onto it.  Tie the corners of the cloth together to form a bag and hang (nothing said where to hang it from, so I hung it from the kitchen sink faucet) for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (or more?), depending on how much of the whey you got in there, until you reach the desired consistency.
I drained my cheese over a bucket in the hopes of saving at least some of the whey.  I don't know what for yet, but it has to be good for something!  I also wasn't convinced my knots would hold, so this is how I made sure my whole effort didn't go to waste if it fell!

I got impatient a few times and tried to squeeze the whey out a little quicker.  That didn't work so well.  I spilled a fair amount of cheese doing that (and it made my hands smell funny).  I wouldn't recommend squeezing it at all.  I probably wouldn't have faced that temptation if I used actual butter muslin, or the cloth I used had a little looser weave (but not too loose).  It's pretty bland and I don't have any "cheese salt" (whatever that is), so I added a bit (teaspoon?) of sea salt to make it taste...more.  The directions in the book said 1-2 tbsp of heavy cream could also be added to make it creamier and more like storebought, but I didn't do that since I don't have any cream on hand.

So there you have it.  My first cheesemaking adventure.  The various sources all seemed to agree that it lasts for a week or so in the fridge, so I'll check it out in lasagna sometime in the next few days before giving it my final blessing! 

1 comment:

  1. Here's a tip from one frugal mumma to another: You can make ricotta from powdered milk, too.

    Combine 4.5 cups milk powder with 9 cups water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until all the milk powder is dissolved. Turn off heat and add 1/2 cup vinegar. Stir to combine. Let sit until cool. Strain through a colander lined with a cotton tea towel (or a clean t-shirt...) Save whey to use as liquid in bread recipes.

    I like this recipe because it's completely shelfstable, so you don't even need fresh milk to make it.