May 17, 2011

More cheese please

If I haven’t mentioned before (I’m pretty sure I did though), I’m a huge fan of cheese. Unfortunately for me, in India, the variety of cheeses are few and far between – think processed, cheddar or mozzarella. The good, imported kind is far too expensive and the local variety, well, far too boring. I have always liked the process of making paneer at home (cottage cheese for the uninitiated) and chanced upon a recipe that helps me make the gorgeously creamy ricotta cheese at home as well. 

I promise you, this is a ridiculously easy and foolproof recipe, something I have tried a few times now and enjoyed great success. Ricotta can be used in just about anything – from pastas and pizzas, to a quiche or a dessrt, it is the perfect go to cheese for that right bite of creaminess. 

I like eating it straight up, mixed with some olive oil and saIt, but also have variants such as chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, fresh basil ribbons and grated lemon zest with freshly ground black pepper, all topped with more crushed salt. Everyone has a different favourite, but what’s most important is that there is delicious, milky, soft, fluffy, fresh ricotta. 

Fresh Ricotta
·         2L (8 c) whole milk
·         500 ml (2 c) buttermilk
·         Special equipment: cheesecloth, fine mesh skimmer or ladle, thermometer (optional)

METHOD: Combine milk and buttermilk in a large, heavy-bottomed (less likely to burn) pot. Add the thermometer to the pot (if using) and set the pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, scraping the bottom to make sure the milk isn't burning and to heat the liquid more evenly.
Meanwhile, set a colander over a large bowl and line the colander with 5 layers of cheesecloth, making sure you have ample overhang all around. 

When the milk heats up and starts to steam, continue to stir and scrape the bottom, but gently (I stopped once I was approaching the ideal temperature so that so that the curds would stay as large and fluffy as possible.) Once the thermometer hits about 170-175 degrees, curds will begin to form and float to the top of the milk. Skim them from the top with your skimmer or ladle and transfer them to the cheesecloth. Scrape the bottom on the pan to free any stuck curds.

Let the ricotta sit for 15 minutes, then lift the cheese cloth and let any excess liquid drain off--do not squeeze unless you want a firm ricotta. Transfer to a serving plate and eat immediately, or refrigerate in an air-tight container for no more than a few days.

The whey left behind is actually what is normally used to make ricotta, and can be used immediately to make a second batch--though I have not tested that yet.

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