Sunday, 19 October 2014

Homemade Ricotta

Faced with a small crowd of people waiting patiently for me to show them how to make cheese I suddenly felt a little nervous. At the beginning of the year Simon, who organises EAT! Festival, asked me if I would teach a few food classes at the Festival of Thift in September. I said yes of course, and agreed to show people how to make butter, mayonnaise, salami and fresh cheese, without thinking about it much further.


I know how to make these things and have done so on many occasions, but usually only with myself for company and here I was faced with real people, who had actual questions, and were watching everything I did... Cheese made me the most nervous, because it is still a bit new to me, and the world of cheese making is vast and so far I only know about a very tiny proportion of it, namely ricotta...

But the excitement I got from making my first batch of ricotta, seeing the process happen so quickly before my eyes is worth telling others about, you should all have a go really, your own cheese feels like quite an achievement! In simple terms you heat milk, add lemon juice and you get ricotta...


I used a litre of whole milk, from this you will get about 300g of ricotta. Heat the milk in a heavy based saucepan slowly. There is little point in using skimmed or semi skimmed milk, it doesn't result in anything healthier or less fatty, the process is separating the fat out of the milk to make cheese, so you just end up with less cheese. A lady in one of my classes said she once tried it with skimmed milk and got a tablespoon of cheese from two litres of milk...

You will need a thermometer, I use my meat probe. Stir the milk gently with a wooden spoon to stop it sticking to the bottom, keep it on a medium heat and you need to bring it up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just below boiling point, when the milk is beginning to steam and froth a little. Remove it from the heat immediately as you don't want it to boil, and add the juice of a lemon, you need about 40ml, give the milk a stir to distribute the lemon juice and watch as the milk instantly separates into curds and whey, it's quite exciting...


You can add a teaspoon of salt at this point if you want too, I have found that I prefer it without, it also means you can use it for sweet or savoury dishes too. Leave the pan to sit for ten minutes, then drain the cheese through some muslin or a clean jay cloth. I tie mine to the tap and let it drip for about ten minutes, you can leave it up to an hour to get a drier cheese, but I like it with a bit of liquid in it still.


So now you have ricotta! Taste it while it is hot, it is much cheesier than the stuff you buy in the shops. Then cool it in the fridge, it will keep for about a week, it is delicious and creamy, your very own cheese! You can also keep the liquid whey from the process and use it for baking, just to make you feel even more virtuous than you already do with homemade cheese in the fridge... Spread it on toast with pesto, crumble it into salads, top your spicy tomato pasta, use it to fill a lemon curd cake...


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