Note: Please welcome our new cheese columnist Katrina Vahedi, a longtime cheesemonger, eater, advocate, and general enthusiast. She currently works at Saxelby Cheese in Manhattan's Essex Street Market, and before that, lived in Berkeley. She's kicking off the column with a DIY ricotta (it's so easy, how could you NOT make it?!) and will have more cheese recipes in the weeks to come. Take it away, Katrina! —The Mgmt.
Ricotta is possibly the most basic, simple form of cheese to make. It's a reminder that good cheese comes from good milk and that food needn't be complicated or have an impossible number of ingredients to knock your socks off.
It's also one of the most tantalizing cheeses during the hot months of summer, when we crave hydration and sweetness. And, in my case, ricotta pancakes, nonstop. Add some walnuts and a little green salad and they make a perfectly suitable dinner! Sure, with syrup, why not? Now we're talking.
But back to cheese.
Fresh cheeses are ideally meant to be made and consumed the same day, which means they don't require refrigeration or stabilizers or preservatives—they go from bowl to gullet in one happy leap!
In hot climates, the most common cheeses are fresh and high moisture products can be made quickly and, in the days before refrigeration, weren't meant to stick around and spoil from the heat. Slaving over a hot pot of milk isn't the most enticing activity for a hot day, but the rewards are refreshing and quick.
Ricotta is one of the easier cheeses to make at home—it's especially tasty when fresh from the cheesecloth. The single step that makes cheese is adding acid to the milk, be it from lemon juice, vinegar, or buttermilk, in varying proportions. For this recipe you will need a big ol' pot, a non-reactive stirring spoon, a colander lined with cheesecloth, paper towels, butter muslin, or a very clean flour sack dish towel, and a reliable thermometer.
Whole-Milk Ricotta Cheese
- Yield:3 to 4 cups of whole milk ricotta
Once the milk has reached 190°F, remove the pot from heat and add the lemon juice. Stir slowly to distribute the lemon well, and curds should begin forming within a minute. Once you see curds, stop stirring! Let the pot sit still for five minutes while curds continue to form and flocculate. Resist the temptation to poke at the curds.
Line your colander with your cloth of choice and set it inside of your large bowl. If using cheesecloth or paper towels, use multiple layers so that your net is porous but dense enough to hold the curds in.
Gently pour your curd and whey mixture into the colander. Let the curds rest, perhaps with some soft music playing in the background, for up to one hour. During this time, your large bowl will need to be drained as the whey level rises. The whey can be saved to make skim-milk ricotta, added to soup stocks for a rich tang, or fed to pigs if you have one handy. Again, resist the temptation to poke at your curds as they drain.
For a fluffy, wet ricotta, drain for 10 to 20 minutes and then use or refrigerate immediately. The longer you allow the whey to drain from the curds, the thicker, sweeter and more delicate your ricotta will become. Squeezing the whey from your cheese by force (a common rookie mistake!) will result in squeaky, granular curds that are interesting, and not great. After one hour unbothered, you will have a thick, creamy goop that will have your fresh berries on their knees, begging for a taste.
Stay tuned next week: What to do with all that extra whey!