I realized I haven’t made anything for a couple weeks. So since I had to make ricotta cheese anyway, I thought I’d introduce you to this easy and delicious recipe. I make this almost every week and use it as a sandwich spread, on toast, as cottage cheese with fruit. I use the whey in place of stock. It’s particularly good as a base for vichyssoise — which I’ll be making for dinner tonight.
1/2 gallon whole milk 1 pint heavy cream 8 tbs distilled vinegar 2 tsp salt
This makes a plain cheese. You can also add flavorings. For example, to make lemon ricotta for ravioli filling, replace all or part of the vinegar with fresh squeezed lemon juice. (Strain the pulp out of the lemon.) I’ve also put fresh ground nutmeg in a few batches for a divine pastry filling. There really isn’t much that doesn’t complement this basic cheese.
I experimented with various vinegars. I find that distilled works best for me. You might like a different curd texture though. I want a largish curd. If you want a finer texture, you might have good luck with white wine vinegar which also lends the cheese a lovely flavor.
I don’t want to suggest you use bad milk, however, it will curdle easier if the milk is not fresh. This recipe does not use rennet. So to get large curds I tend to use the milk that is on its last day. I’ve even gone past by a day or two. As long as there is no bad smell, I consider it acceptable.
Pour the milk and cream into a heavy bottomed pan (an apple-butter pan works well) and heat over medium heat. Don’t let it scald, but also don’t stir it too much.
Watch the temperature. When the milk gets to about 185°, add the vinegar. It will start to curdle the milk immediately, so you want to get as much milk exposed to the vinegar as possible right away. I dump each tablespoon into the milk at a different point around the pan, then gently stir it into the milk.
Turn down the heat to medium low and let the curds develop. This will not take more than a couple minutes.
When the curds are close to the size you want, add the salt. Gently stir it in.
Watch the whey. When it is yellowish and mostly clear, then the cheese is done cooking. Take it off the heat and let it stand 30 minutes.
While the cheese rests, set up the strainer. I use a colander in a large bowl with a damp towel in the colander. You can use cheese cloth, except you need several layers. And towels are easier to wash.
After the cheese rests, pour it into the strainer. Be aware that this is where mess will happen.
Let the cheese strain for up to an hour on the counter. If you want a drier cheese, you can put the whole business into the fridge for several hours or overnight. When the cheese is the texture you want, transfer the curds to a storage container. Retain the whey for soup base.
Both curds and whey can be frozen. If you don’t freeze them, use within 10 days.