Mar 27, 2012

Cheese Making 101: Ricotta

As if I don't already have more projects started than I can possibly complete, I've gotten all gung-ho about learning to make my own yogurt and cheese.  So I've started buying a gallon of raw cow's milk from a local farmer each week.  It's kind of on the down low - the raw milk issue is yet unresolved in my state.  If you're in the know, you will find a van in a specified place for a couple hours once a week…you walk up, get handed great big ball jars of fresh, unlabeled milk from the back seat, then pre-pay for whatever amount you'd like to pick up next week.  Covert!  

I haven't bought cow's milk for years because it upsets my stomach to an embarrassing degree, if you know what I mean.  Suddenly, I'm buying enough for a family of four.  The really amazing thing is that although I'm lactose intolerant, I consumed a whole cup of this fresh, raw milk without incident.  I shit you not!  That is to say that I did not shit all night as I normally would if I consumed that amount of milk.  I read that lactose intolerant people can drink raw milk, but I don't believe everything I read on the internet.  C'mon.  It seems to be true for me though, and I'm really excited about it!  Do you know how many years it's been since I've had a glass of milk with a home made cookie?!  Decades.  So even if I never get around to becoming a serious cheese maker, I will definitely be getting around to dunking some cookies.  

For my first cheese making experiment, I chose an easy one - ricotta.  It was really easy, and I think it came out as it was supposed to, although it's pretty different from store bought ricotta.  Perhaps it was because the recipe called for milk and a lot of cream, but I used only whole milk.  Instead of being creamy and spreadable like store bought ricotta, it was more like curds of fresh mozzarella - a bit rubbery, and definitely not spreadable.  Totally tasted like fresh mozz to me, too.  That's cool, because I actually use mozzarella frequently and rarely use ricotta.  I added some dried basil to the finished cheese and will be using it in a lasagna tomorrow.
But what about that creamy, spreadable store bought ricotta that I love?  My first two attempts at making yogurt created something indiscernible from that type of ricotta cheese.  And it was even easier than the ricotta making method I tried today!  I'll be working out my yogurt machine ricotta making method over the next few days and will let you know how it works.  

For now, here's how I made ricotta cheese with raw cow's milk using a recipe from the book Artisan Cheese Making At Home.

Mar 25, 2012

When Life Gives You Ricotta, Make a Lemon Ricotta Cake

My first two attempts at making yogurt with raw milk yielded something very close to ricotta cheese instead of yogurt (I've since solved the issue).  So I set my noggin to conjuring various uses for ricotta:  lasagna, gnocchi, pizza…but once the image of a cake appeared in there, I latched onto it.  So I kinda composited a recipe I thought could work.  It worked, but I wouldn't call it a great recipe.  (Next time life gives me ricotta, I'll try baking a true cheesecake with it.)  This cake inhabits a space somewhere between a cheesecake and a risen flour cake.  It's moist, heavy and dense, but doesn't have the creamy texture of a cheesecake.  More like a pound cake.  Flavorwise, I'm happy with it - lemony and not too sweet.  It doesn't look as pretty as I'd like, but it could easily be beautified by sifting powdered sugar over the top, or adding a lemon glaze, or if you're real ambitious, lemon curd.  I didn't have any powdered sugar on hand, and I didn't have the gumption to make lemon curd today.  All I had was a jar of blackberry preserves I made last summer in Oregon.  Which turned out to be a perfectly wonderful topping for this super easy lemon ricotta cake.
To see how I made the cake, follow the See More link below.