I don’t know where I first read about making my own cheese. But I know I learned of Ricki Carrol and with the help of her very handy cheesemaking kit, I’ve now made ricotta cheese twice in my life.
This whole cheesemaking thing? I think I could get into this. But December, January and February would be the months to do so, because after this, I’m in my garden. And fields or orchards or baseball fields. I do not have a cheese press, but I’ve learned that the easiest cheese to make is ricotta, followed by mozzarella.
The key? Good, whole milk—not ultra-pasteurized. (Tip: check the sell by date. If it’s 3 months from now, put it back and keep looking.) Add to this a teaspoon of cheese salt and a teaspoon of citric acid, and you’re set.
Because now you stir while the whey separates from the curd while heating over low to medium heat. Yes, I know. Curds and whey. I thought they only existed in rhyming sing-songs too. But it’s true: cheese is made by the separation of curds and whey in whole milk. It was like a scientific experiment going on in my kitchen. You want the temperature to reach 190 degrees or so. You watch for the whey to no longer be milky white, but to be more clear in consistency.
And once they separate, you turn off the heat, and let it sit for a bit. 15 minutes minimum. Then, scoop the curds into cheesecloth (see? This is why it’s called cheesecloth!).
Now let it drain for 15-30 minutes. I hang mine from the faucet in the sink.
The whey I’m holding onto: evidently it makes a wonderful base for English muffin bread. It’s yellow, and I poured it back into the milk jug. No one needs to make a reference to trucker’s lemonade, thanks.
The fresh ricotta is very mellow in taste, but it will keep, covered tightly, in the fridge for a good week or so. I’ve used it in ricotta baked goods (ricotta cake is tasty!), as well as in dishes like lasagna, etc. It’s a great way to layer lightly cooked vegetables, noodles, and homemade tomato sauce for a homegrown, homemade lasagna. The taste is unlike the storebought ricotta in that it has no aftertaste, coating of the tongue or other element that I would assign to it. Mellow, mellow and more mellow…and definitely homemade.
Next up? The famous no-knead bread...