You can make cheese at home.
I’ll let that sink in for a second.
Because seriously. You can.
A friend texted me the other night and asked, really, the question that’s on everyone’s mind these days– yes, even bigger than trivial blather like Will the bailout pass? Will Sarah Palin quit winking at the camera already? When will I get a pony?…
“Have you ever made ricotta? I want to try but I’m scared.”
There, there, pallies. We simply fear what we do not understand. And as it turns out, ricotta-makin’ is easier than you’d ever think.
So here’s the gear:
- a gallon of whole milk (the fresher, the better)
- a quart of buttermilk (again, fresh. Seriously. This cheese tastes exactly like where it came from so if you’re trolling the Jewel discount case right now, get the hell out.)
- cheesecloth– lots of brands you’ll find are reusable and easy to wash & dry to use for your next batch. You know. Because you’ll make this all the time.
- a colander
- a cooking thermometer (or one purloined from a university physics lab and duly disinfected. I mean… what? Who does that?) (FYI, I’m normally rather disdainful of measurement tools and the thermometer is up there as One of the Most Annoying Kitchen Devices Ever, whose presence in the instructions is usually enough to kill any yay-new-recipe mental boner I might have worked up. But in this case, you actually do need it to ensure safety.)
- A big heavy pot. And, right, for those of us who have never registered for kitchen wares, perhaps a good-quality soup-pot or the like is not necessarily easy to come by. So, yeah, use whatever you’ve got. (But if you can hit up Nana for her Le Creuset, your life will change. And not even just when you’re making cheese. Though, again… that’ll happen all the time. I know, totally.)
Put the colander in the sink and lay four layers of cheesecloth over it (the four layers shouldn’t be a problem– the package that I worked with had plenty to fold over). This will lie in wait for a hot, curdy mess.
Dump your milks into the pot and crank it up to high heat. I’m not kidding. Stir continuously and after a while you’ll see little curds coming up. While you’re stirring, be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so nothing scalds (scalded cheese = grody). Once you’ve got a good crop of curds up– they’ll be small, not like cottage cheese or anything– and the liquid (that’d be whey) looks sort of cloudy/grayish (ew, don’t worry, that gets discarded), bust out your thermometer and see what she says. Once the mixture gets between 175 and 180F, turn off the heat.
Toddle over to the sink with the pot and ladle the contents into the cheesecloth/colander. If you’re like me, you’ll get impatient about halfway through this very important (read: silly) ladling process and elect to pour– carefully, of course– the rest of the goop into the colander. This will be fine.
Let that stuff sit and drain for about 5 minutes. DO NOT SQUISH IT DOWN. You’ll dry it out. And I will judge you. Then, gather up the corners of the cloth and tie ’em up with a rubber band/hair clip/scrunchie (shut up, you still so have one)/clothespin/seriously, whatever, you get my point. Let that drain for another 10-15 minutes: this part comes down to your personal preference in texture. I– and my mom, a true epicure who enjoys ricotta by the spoonful– kind of prefer a creamier ricotta, in which case you’ll want to start checking on the baby around minute 10 and monitor the draining from there. If you want a drier ricotta, let the bundle nest peacefully for a full 15 minutes. Another thing you could do– since this thing yields about 4 cups– is remove half once it’s reached a creamy texture, then leave the other half to drain further for a firmer cheese.
No matter how long you’ve let it sit, it needs to go into an airtight container pretty much right away.
Unless you’re gonna eat it NOW. Which I’d recommend, on some bread with a teeny bit of salt, maybe some fresh black pepper, and some decent olive oil. Or switch the olive oil out for some honey and maybe a few nuts.
Or, if you’re Rosellen, go get a spoon and have at it.