Unless you’re already canning, brewing and fermenting your own foods, the thought of making homemade cheese probably sounds intimidating. Half of you are probably thinking, “Don’t I need a cheese press and a cave for that?” And the other half, “Wait, what’s a cheese press?”
While learning to make some cheeses well could, in fact, be a complicated, lifelong endeavor, a simple ricotta cheese can be whipped up quickly with tools you probably already have in your kitchen.
With only about a half an hour of active prep time and common grocery store ingredients, homemade ricotta makes a wonderful “starter” cheese. Even if you never graduate to more involved cheese-making, it’s so rich and creamy — and so unlike anything you’ve ever bought from a store — that you’ll find yourself craving it over and over again.
As with any home preservation project, though, ingredients matter. Everyone should research and come to their own conclusions about unpasteurized — or raw— milk, but if it’s right for your family and you can get your hands on some, it makes the most amazing cheese.
If you don’t want to use raw milk, at least grab a gallon of local Iwig or Hildebrand milk. Whole makes the creamiest cheese, but 2 percent will do in a pinch. Also, feel free to experiment with goat’s milk or sheep’s milk if you have access to that.
Whatever you do, don’t use “ultra-pasteurized” or “shelf stable” milk. The high-temperature processing damages the milk’s ability to curd, which is an essential part of the cheese-making process.
We like to eat our homemade ricotta on slices of Wheatfields baguette with toppings like cucumber, grape tomatoes, honey and jam. If you have the cheese already prepared, it makes for a quick, cool dinner that’s just perfect for nibbling on the back porch with a glass of cold white wine.
2 cups whole milk
1 cup cream
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
A few tablespoons of chopped herbs (optional)
Pour the milk, cream and salt into a nonreactive pot. Heat to 190 F, using a thermometer to carefully measure and stirring so that the milk doesn’t scorch. Once the milk reaches 190 F, turn off the heat. Add the lemon juice, and let the pot sit for 5-10 minutes without stirring.
While the cheese is resting, put a piece of cheesecloth or a clean dishtowel into the bowl of a fine, mesh sieve. Put the sieve over a large bowl.
When the cheese has rested and begun to look curdled, slowly pour it into the cheesecloth and sieve. The whey should slowly drain through, while the curds begin to solidify. Move the entire setup into your fridge and allow it to keep draining for at least an hour, and up to overnight.
When the cheese is done draining, give it a taste. Add more salt if you think it’s necessary or a handful of chopped herbs. Store in an airtight container for up to four or five days.
Lastly, don’t throw away the whey. It freezes well, and makes killer homemade biscuits.
— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at mybitofearth.net.