I’m visiting my friend Kellee in Boston this week. She and I are peas in a pod. Homestead-y types, when we get together it usually means we’re going to spend some time getting stuff done. When I visited last summer, we pickled about 80 pounds of produce. The summer before, we installed raised garden beds. That’s how we roll and this year was no exception. This week, we hit the kitchen to produce some homemade cheese so easy that it need not wait for a special occasion.
Cheese is the result of separating the solids from the liquids in milk. Using an enzyme like rennet or an acid and heat, the fat- and protein-laden curds rise from the whey. In some cases, the curds may be eaten with little further processing or pressed into wheels or blocks and sometimes flavored or ripened to yield cheeses of different firmness, textures and flavors.
OK, so that is a really basic explanation of the magic that is cheese. The craft of cheesemaking dates back thousands of years and lifetimes can be spent finding that place where art, science and wisdom meet to produce a truly exquisite cheese.
Don’t have that kind of time? Not a problem. They don’t all take a lifetime to master. Very simple cheeses can be made with minimal effort or equipment. Farmer’s cheeses are basic cheeses that are ready to eat almost as soon as you’ve made them. Panir and queso blanco are also pressed cheeses with a quick turnaround time. One of my favorites of the basics is homemade ricotta. Incredibly versatile, it can be used in cooking (lasagne, anyone?), in baking or as a spread for bread or crackers, and you’ll only spend about an hour making it.
We have plenty of time left for other vacation projects. Have I shown you how to make sangria yet? It is a vacation, after all.
Cheese is made by introducing an enzyme or acid to milk and heating to curdle. Using citric acid produces the small curds found in ricotta.
Dissolve 1 teaspoon citric acid in ¼ cup of water so it will distribute evenly when added to milk.
Add citric acid and 2 teaspoons kosher salt to 1 gallon of milk in a large, heavy pot, and cook at medium heat, stirring frequently, until a temperature of 190 degrees is reached. Here you can see curds already beginning to form.
Once temperature is reached, a thick layer of curds should be floating on top of the whey (which will be thin and yellowish). Remove from heat and let rest 15 minutes.
Line a colander with a large square of fine cheesecloth. The cheesecloth found at your grocery is often too loose a weave and will not adequately retain curds. Check online or with local cheese shops or home-brewing stores to find a fine or ultra-fine cloth.
Pour pot contents into cheesecloth to drain.
Draw sides of cheesecloth together to form a bag and tie corners together.
Hang ricotta cheese over a pot (using a dowel or long wooden spoon) to drain completely (30-40 minutes).
Untie cheesecloth and remove homemade ricotta.
Add 2 tablespoons heavy cream (if desired) for a creamier consistency.
Ricotta may be stored loose or packed tightly into a container to retain the shape of the container. Homemade ricotta may be stored refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 weeks. Enjoy!