Friday, March 25, 2011

Homemade Ricotta

Dear Kate,

At two days old, your inexperienced parents called a nurse into the hospital to explain (in between sobs on my part) that you were not eating and we didn't know what to do.  You were going to starve to death and we were clearly the worst parents ever.  The nurse, with barely an eye-roll, asked why we thought you weren't eating.  Well, obviously you were upset and crying and I just knew, just knew, you were starving.  At the end of this explanation, you turned your adorable face and spit out a phenomenal amount of milk.  The nurse, smiling smugly, informed us that clearly you were eating plenty and the crying was not from starvation but from an overly full tummy.  And we were so relieved to see the amount of food you had consumed that we didn't even mind the fact that we were covered in spit-up.  After a few months of constantly being rained on by baby barf, we were somewhat less joyful about your lack of stomach control.  You were the Spit-Up Queen.  For the next nine months - nine long, messy months. 

Making ricotta cheese this week, I was reminded of those days of your infancy as I discovered that curds and whey looks remarkably like spit-up.  I think you summed it up nicely when you said it might be best if you didn't know how cheese was made.  The process is similar - input milk, heat, mix with acid, stir.  Voila!  Cheese or, in the case of a baby, spit-up.  I was so glad that I made the cheese the day before needing it, as once it is separated and refrigerated, the resemblance diminishes. (How did Little Miss Muffet eat curds and whey?  Truly, that has never sounded less appealing.)

See what I'm talking about?  Not the most appetizing thing.

You can chose to buy ricotta, but look for a brand without all the chemicals.  Otherwise, try the following recipe for making a large quantity, such as you need for a calzone.  (Next I'm going to try a five-minute microwave version that makes a smaller amount, but sounds so easy.) You can make this up to five days ahead, storing in the refrigerator.

Now it looks more like ricotta, less like something inedible.

(Technically, this isn't a true ricotta cheese, but close enough for me)
Adapted from: Cosa Bolle in Pentola by Kyle Phillips, who got it from Grace Pilato)

1 gallon whole pasteurized milk 
1/3 Cup plus 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Using a large stock pot, place one gallon of milk and salt over medium heat.  (Mr. Phillips recommends rinsing the pot with cold water to help keep the milk from scorching - I'm not sure it really makes a difference.)

2.  Stir occasionally until milk reaches between 180-185 degrees (you really want a thermometer - you don't want the milk to boil).

3.  Remove the pot from heat, and the vinegar and stir gently.  Cover with a clean dish towel for two hours (longer is fine too).

4. Place a piece of cheesecloth four layers thick in a colander over a bowl.  Using a slotted spoon gently ladle the curds out of the pot and place on the cheesecloth (don't be tempted to just pour the mixture into the colander - it will take forever to drain).  Let sit for two more hours.  Save the leftover whey in an airtight container in the refrigerator for other uses.

5.  Pick up the cheesecloth by the corners, pull together corners and gently squeeze out the liquid until it is the consistency you desire.  Place in an airtight container and refrigerate up to five days.

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