Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cheesepalooza: Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta

I set some foodie goals back at the beginning of this year. It was a great way to focus my culinary efforts, learn some new things, and explore more of the food that I love. Well... one of those goals was to bake more bread and to learn to make cheese. 

Could the invitation to participate in Cheesepalooza have come at a better time!?!?

Well, Valerie of A Canadian Foodie, Deb the Locavore, Ian of Much Ado About Cheese, and Addie of The Big Cheese Project concepted and launched Cheesepalooza, a cheesy journey into the world of homemade cheese making. They invited and put an open call out to food bloggers from anywhere and everywhere to embark upon this cheesy journey together. With monthly challenges, optional extra creations and -of course- encouraged camaraderie and community learning, many signed up for Cheesepalooza. 

Our "curriculum" would follow through our guide book, Artisan Cheesemaking at Home by Mary Karlin - a beautiful book that seems to make the world of cheese-making infinitely more accessible than it was before I found this sort of structure for learning. Our first challenge for Cheesepalooza was issued at the beginning of August - to make a whole milk ricotta (check out the other challenges here). 

And off I went to my neighbourhood fave, Bridgeland Market, for the best organic milk for this escapade. There are some great resources on learning about and finding organic dairy in Alberta (like this one by Organic Alberta). Vital Green Farm (here's a great video on them by Community Natural Foods), which is stocked at our local market, has a great whole milk and a stunning heavy cream that were the foundation for my ricotta.

While cheese-making itself seems like an exceedingly complicated enterprise, ricotta is a great fresh cheese starting point for the beginners (like me). All that you need is whole milk, cream, citric acid (or lemon juice), and salt. In terms of equipment, you need a large stock pot, whisk, spatula, slotted spoon or strainer, a few bowls, thermometer, and cheese cloth. The only things that you'll probably need to buy are the citric acid and the cheese cloth... which is nice.

It's a simple process, really. Combine the milk, cream, citric acid, and salt. Heat to 185-195 F. Rest, then drain. Enjoy. (How's that for 15 powerful words?!)

The curdling begins...

Still very delicate.

You can see the curds and whey separating more and more...

While I won't be sharing Mary Karlin's recipe (I'd recommend that you purchase her book), there are many Cheesepalooza bloggers who have their own recipes and ratios that I am able to share with you. Here are two ricotta recipes (one with lemon juice and another with vinegar) from A Canadian Foodie.

After resting, ready to drain.

Transferring the curds to cheesecloth.

Ready to hang!

Lots of whey left... 

A few thoughts:

  • Definitely have all of your equipment out and ready. Make sure that everything is clean and sterile. 
  • Follow the directions and quantities! At least until you get the hang of things, then you can tweak.
  • Stir your milk/cream gently.
  • Measure the temperature using a thermometer that can reach the centre of your milk/cream. I have a fancy IR thermometer and found that I needed to be actively stirring the milk/cream to get a gauge on the centre temperature... otherwise, it was just reading the surface temperature, which was 10+ degrees cooler than the centre. So, I also used my candy thermometer as a secondary gauge.
  • I think I was being a bit too cautious in my heat level, so it took about 40+ minutes to reach the required temperatures, as opposed to the 15-20 minutes that they book described. I'll be less wimpy next time... maybe. :)
  • I didn't find the directions clear in terms of whether I was supposed to leave my curdled milk on the element (turned off) for the 10 minute rest period or move it to a trivet. I opted to turn off the element and leave the pot there. It seemed to work just fine. Next time, I'll move it to a trivet and see if that makes a difference. 
  • The original recipe called for butter muslin, which I couldn't find, so I used regular washed cheese cloth for the draining. It didn't seem to hurt it at all. (Ironically, I went through my cheese making supplies when I was putting away the cheese cloth and found that I had ordered butter muslin online months ago... that was a smart moment. hahah) 
  • I drained my ricotta for about 15 - 20 minutes, thus producing a slightly drier final product. I wanted that texture and weight to hold up to the flavour additions that I was planning... stay tuned here you go!

A slightly drier ricotta. You can produce a wetter or drier ricotta based on the draining time.

T A S T I N G    N O T E S
  • Appearance - Looks very creamy but definitely a bit drier than the initial, incredibly fluffy curds that first formed.
  • Nose (Aroma) - Minimal. Subtle milk aroma.
  • Overall Taste - Rich and milky. No real discernable flavours aside from the milks that were chosen.
  • Sweet to Salty - Leans slightly more to sweet than salty. More that creamy sweetness from the cream.
  • Mild to Robust - Mild. Definitely. In Mom's words, "a perfect vehicle for other flavours."
  • Mouth Feel - Creamy. Definitely more dense and heavy in texture when cool, as opposed to room temperature. At room temperature, there was more creaminess and lightness. 

5 thought(s):

Anonymous said...

I am glad you had success the first time out. It was nice to see your notes/thoughts on your make and suggestions for next time. Well done

Nic said...

Great post, and your ricotta looks delicious :)

Stephanie said...

Ha! We heated ours up super duper slowly too. Better fast than sorry.

A few years ago I decided to bake all my own bread and with the exception of this month (broke my collarbone) its been two years of homemade bread! So I think your goal for more bread making and cheese making are exactly in line with mine. Makes for some great eating. Here's to more homemade bread and cheese :)

Stephanie said...

better *safe* than sorry.. typo!

A Canadian Foodie said...

What is happening to my comments! I posted twice here already! Thought it "disappeared" the first time - and came back and did it again - and was just looking to see what others were saying -and find my own comment missing AGAIN! Anyway, this was a VERY informative post - and your ricotta looks delicious. I left a long warm and friendly chatty comment before but am out of time... but I would love to make cheese and bread with you! We need to arrange this one day. Hope you get together with the other Calgary gals and do a tasting! :) V

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