Sunday, 25 August 2013

Homemade Ricotta

There is absolutely nothing better in life than basking in the glow of accomplishment. And if that accomplishment is homemade cheese, you will not only feel like a more superior Laura Ingalls Wilder, you will have a delicious product to eat for the next four days. (If it lasts that long, because I nearly ate the whole ball tonight.)

You may have already noticed this, but I love cheese. But I love REAL cheese. Not pre-sliced, cardboard substitutes for cheese. We spent some time living in Arizona, and in Arizona they call these sliced cheeses “American cheese”. In Canada, they call it “processed cheese.” I’m not sure why it is America wants ownership of a cheese-like product that contains more chemicals than my bathtub cleaner (and we are not talking about green cleaner here) but apparently they do. It’s probably an issue with the French. You know how Americans feel about the French. They want everyone to know this is not the cheese of the FRENCH. (Totally just kidding all French and American readers. Please do not send us hate mail because, while I can definitely handle it, my mother’s delicate sensibilities cannot and she reads the same emails I do.)

I was unaware of the difference in terminology for quite a long time after we moved to Canada, and I continued to call it American cheese for some time.

Dairy mixture in a pot. 
I was actually unaware of many differences in terminology for a long time and also had a lot of trouble differentiating the French-English packaging issue (I was quite convinced for several years that Deli-Cinq and Five Alive were two different products, not just the front and back of the same can). Ordering a “Deli-Cinq” in Toronto was somewhat amusing for people, but it wasn’t confusing for them. However, saying “American cheese” was literally like speaking another language. Example- when I was about 16, I considered buying a pre-packaged sandwich in my school cafeteria. (This was before I sampled the delights of poutine, at that time I thought poutine might be the most disgusting thing I’d ever heard of). I am always vaguely suspicious of pre-packaged sandwiches because there are several dilemmas you face if you get one.

Q. Is that cheese processed? 
A. Most likely, unless you are in a fancy sandwich store. Certainly, if you are in a school cafeteria.

Q. Is that meat processed?
A. Yes, almost always, unless you are in a restaurant. If not, you face the secondary dilemma of is it chicken? Was it cooked properly?

Q. How old might that sandwich be?
A. Try not to think about it.

The sandwich I had picked up in the cafeteria was veggie, so I was unconcerned about the meat situation. But the cheese situation was an issue, because I wouldn’t eat it if it were sliced cheese. (I should say that it’s not because I’m like, “Ohhhh, processed food. Who eats processed food? I eat only food of the earth.” I don’t really care. It’s more of a texture thing. I can’t eat cold cuts or sliced cheese because they just really put me off. That’s all. I’m not trying to write some kind of sanctimonious asshole blog here. If you like processed food, good on you. Have a Kraft Single for me and roll it up with some sliced deli chicken.)

There was an awkward moment that ensued because of my 16 year old neuroses that went a little like this:

Curdled... as in, exactly what you don't
want to pour into your cereal.
Bailey: Picks up plastic-encased sandwich. Holds it up to the sky. “Excuse me, does this sandwich have American cheese?”

Cafeteria employee: Does not look up. “Yes, there is cheese on that sandwich.”

B: “Yes. I can see the cheese. But is it American cheese?”

C: Blank stare.

B: Becoming agitated at the non-instant response. “You know, American cheese. Like, did you, like, unwrap the slice from plastic? Or did you, like, you know, like, cut it off a block of cheese?”

Stage right: Best friend of Bailey, K., enters. Is wildly amused at the scenario and forming scene in cafeteria.

K: “Is it processed cheese?”

C: “Oh. Yes.”
Cheesecloth on a colander.

B: “Oh.” Places sandwich back down, in disgust. K looks at her in mortification and calls her a snob.

End Scene

So there you go. I don’t like processed cheese. I am proud to say that I am a cheese snob. At this point, I know you are thinking, “But even the real cheese you buy in the grocery store is processed on some level. GOD, PEOPLE HAVE REALLY GONE NUTS WITH THIS ORGANIC THING.” Of course you’re thinking that, because I have had this conversation before and I know that’s what people think. (But remember, I’m not judgmental of the processing issue, it’s the texture.)

Draining whey from curds. 
Do you know what is a great way to counter that argument, should you ever find yourself in it? Make your own cheese. It’s easier than you think. I have Googled it in the past and been put off because many recipes require a thermometer, and we know how I feel about things requiring precise measurements. So I never did it. But then my friend Zach, who is quite the culinary genius, made his own ricotta and put it on Facebook. I was so that I immediately messaged him and asked how he did it. I was lucky he shared with me. We have mutual culinary respect for each other, so in the end I got the goods.

Super easy. Here we go. Start with a heavy bottomed pot. Pour in four cups of whole milk and one cup of heavy cream. Bring to a simmer while stirring (don’t let it scorch.) Once it simmers, remove it from the heat and add 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Now this requires full credit to Zach. Most of the recipes I’ve seen on the Internet suggest vinegar. I’m sure vinegar is fine, but the fresh lemon juice is noticeable in the final product, and I think it really adds a nice brightness to it. Also add ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. If you wanted to be creative at this point, I am not one to stop you. Add fresh herbs, you could add honey, whatever you want. Let it sit for about 10 minutes while it curdles.
And that, my friends, is cheese. 

While that happens, lay a few layers of cheesecloth in a large colander and put that in the sink. Pour your curds and whey (how fun is that?) in to the colander and let it drain for two hours or so.

Now you have cheese! It lasts refrigerated for about four days. If you do any lovely recipes with your homemade ricotta, send us the pictures! @ladygirlstable or

Wine, always wine. 

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