For the next episode in my 25 Recipes Challenge, I chose ricotta cheese. I’ve been reading a lot about cheesemaking, and while I don’t (yet) have any desire to get into the complicated ones involving rennet and cheese presses and such, I thought it would be fun to try some of the simpler cheeses. Ricotta is one of my absolute favorite foods, especially since Hannah discovered her favorite ricotta at my grocery store, so I’ll start there.
The recipe I used comes from Serious Eats’ Food Lab, which took a scientific look at the challenges and issues in making ricotta. Real true ricotta is a whey-based cheese, and perhaps I’ll tackle that later; the ricotta here is actually closer to a paneer or queso fresco. But for my first time making cheese, I don’t really care. So: the challenges to be overcome: Milk can boil over, different types of acid can produce different effects, etc.
The final results of all the experiments suggested using a microwave to heat the milk (which means it won’t boil over), using white vinegar (which has a consistent acidic level), and using cheesecloth or paper towels to strain it.
I combined 2 cups whole milk, 2 T white vinegar, and 1/4 tsp of salt, put it in the microwave, and set it for 2 minutes (the minimum time). I checked it every 30 seconds after that, and ended up needing to cook it for 4 1/2 minutes before the whey and curds separated.
The instructions then said to remove the curds from the whey with a wire strainer or slotted spoon. I tried a slotted spoon, and the holes were too big, so I grabbed a small wire mesh strainer, but the holes were too small. So I ended up pouring the entire mixture into my cheesecloth-lined strainer, knowing it would take longer to drain.
The instructions said to let it drain for five minutes for a very soft cheese, and 10-15 minutes for a medium firm ricotta. I let this drain for nearly an hour, and it was still very soft. And this was the entire yield:
I think next time I’ll try heating the milk a little longer – I know the max time in the recipe was four minutes, and I did four and a half, but maybe my microwave is weaker than I thought. I also want to try straining it in a coffee filter instead of cheesecloth, to see what happens.
For a first ever attempt at cheese, I have to say that I’m proud that at least I ended up making cheese, and not salami.