June 28, 2012

I Made Cheese!

To say I love cheese would be an understatement. I really don't know how I survived veganism for almost a year solely for the fact that I didn't eat cheese. And I especially love ricotta- it's light with a beautiful subtle flavor. A guy once showed up at my door with a bunch of lilies and a tub of fresh ricotta from Eataly. I dropped the lilies on my dining room table, grabbed a spoon, and started enjoying the ricotta right away. Cheese- the way to my heart.

When I found out that making ricotta was ridiculously easy, I couldn't resist. Since I've been making lots of my own pasta lately, I thought it would be lovely to create a gluten free lasagna using my own homemade pasta dough & ricotta. Last night, I made the ricotta for the first time I couldn't believe how insanely easy it was! Seriously. I kept wondering if I missed a step because it took nothing but some whole milk, sea salt, lemon juice, a pot, cheesecloth & a few minutes to turn a few cups of milk into this delicious cheese.

If you don't have cheesecloth on hand, it's easy to find at most grocery stores. I picked mine up at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Next I poured 4 cups of whole milk into a heavy bottom pot, added 1/2 tsp of sea salt, and heated it over a medium-high flame. It's important to stir the milk occasionally to prevent it from scorching. 

While the milk was heating, I squeezed fresh lemon juice to equal 1/4 a cup. The original recipe I found here called for only 3 tablespoons but I've read that the acidity of each lemon is different and more might be needed to curdle my milk. I ended up using the entire 1/4 cup. You can also replace the lemon juice with distilled white vinegar if you'd like and in that case, use 3 tablespoons.

I watched for foam to begin forming around the edge of the milk, just before it would come to a boil. If you have a food thermometer, heat it to 180 - 190 F. Once the milk was heated to the correct temperature, I removed it from my burner and poured in my lemon juice, stirring only for a moment to allow curdles to start forming. The milk began to curdle right away and it was pretty cool to watch! I set my kitchen timer for 5 minutes and lined my sieve with a layer of cheesecloth which I then set on a large bowl.
When the timer went off, my milk was pretty curdled and I proceeded to carefully pour it into my prepared sieve. The idea is to be as gentle as possible so you don't disturb the formed curdles.
 And then I waited... and let my cheese drain for 5 minutes until it looked like this
 and then another 5 minutes (10 in total) until it looked like this:
 
Because I'm using my ricotta for a white lasagna without much added sauce, I decided to keep it moist. But if I had wanted dryer ricotta, I could just let it keep draining up to 20 minutes. I carefully picked up my cheese filled cheesecloth, emptied it in a container and here it is! Beautiful, right?
  
So beautiful, it deserves a close up!
You can store your homemade ricotta in the refrigerator for up to 7 days, if it lasts that long. The 4 cups of milk yielded 2 cups of ricotta and I'm having a hard time not finishing it before I make my lasagna. Looks like I'll just have to make another batch ;)

Have you ever made your own cheese before? I'm dying to try mozzarella next, and then maybe feta. Any good recipes you can recommend?
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