About a year ago, I met a neighbor when she stopped for some fresh eggs. We chatted a bit, and before she left I had agreed to accept some of her overflow of raw goat milk to try my hand at cheesemaking. You know how things go in the country—we were soon fast friends. Maybe it was because I never turned her away when she did things like deliver a LOT more milk than I had said I could use.
You're getting HOW much milk every day? Photo By Pier Jones
With so much milk to “play with,” I was able to try lots of recipes on a daily basis. Without a doubt, the easiest, most versatile cheese for a newbie is ricotta—you can use it for dessert, a main course, a side dish, a salad, and it freezes well. I was using raw goat milk, but because you're going to heat it anyway, store-bought pasteurized milk works fine, either goat or cow. Do not use ultra-pasteurized, as you'll never get a good curd, or so they tell me.
Ricotta needs no fancy additives—no cultures, no special acids—which makes it an even better choice for the new cheesemaker. No added expense while you try your hand and decide if cheesemaking is something you want to explore further.
Here's all you'll need:
• 1 gallon whole milk (trust, me the texture is better with whole milk)
• 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (have a little more on hand, as every batch can vary just a bit)
• pat of butter or drizzle of olive oil (optional)
• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (optional)
• non-reactive pot that holds at least 6 quarts
• thermometer (for this recipe, a simple candy thermometer will do, but if you get really into making cheeses, you'll want a good digital thermometer)
1. Pour the milk into your pot and begin to heat over medium heat. You can bump the heat up just a bit later, but you don't want to scorch your milk. Stir often at first, and constantly as it gets hotter.
2. When the milk has reached a temperature between 190 and 204 degrees, stir in the vinegar. Your milk should immediately begin to curd. You can use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the milk, or you can watch the milk closely. When steam is rising off the milk, but just before it begins to boil, is the right time to add the vinegar. Not using a thermometer may work best after you have made ricotta a few times and become familiar with what to watch for.
This photo shows the milk beginning to curd. If the whey (the liquid that separates from the milk solids) does not turn yellow and translucent in a minute or so, add more vinegar—I just add a dollop from the vinegar jug until I get the results I want.
The milk begins to curd. Photo By Pier Jones.
3. Once the curds have formed and the whey has separated, drain it in a colander lined with cheesecloth, or a flour-sack kitchen towel (I prefer the latter).
Only allow it to drain for a minute or so, unless you want a drier cheese. The cheese is ready to eat or freeze now. However, if you want a fluffier, moister cheese, after a quick draining put the cheese into a large bowl with a little butter or olive oil and a couple of pinches of baking soda. The soda will react with the vinegar that's still present and immediately foam up. Stir vigorously to incorporate the air into your cheese, and add salt or herbs, if desired.
Although this cheese is wonderful for everything from lasagna to cheesecake, it is best enjoyed immediately, warm. Another drizzle of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and I promise you will not be disappointed!
Fresh ricotta with tomatoes and balsamic—delicious! Photo By Pier Jones.
Want more cheese recipes? There's more to the story of the making of this cheesemaker—my neighbor, having found a place to deposit her extra milk, then bought not one, but TWO, Jersey cows! And the cheese-making continues.... Stay tuned for more posts!
Pier Jones is an Oklahoman who is passionate about many things—her family, gardening, yoga, food preservation, herbs and all things food-related. Like most Southern women, she lives to feed people! Follow her on her Facebook page, A Year of Traditional Living.