Homemade cheese—not something I’d heard much about, nor had a concept of how to do, until I decided to attempt this ricotta recipe. Some conversation with Luke’s family, inspired by reflections on our trip to the Hunter Valley a few weeks ago, brought up the mention that making cheese at home is pretty easy. Softer cheeses, such as ricotta or feta, don’t need to be aged like hard cheeses such as cheddar or gouda, so you can easily make them at home without needing any special equipments or carefully cultured moulds. Easy as it might be though, I was a bit concerned about the ingredients required for cheesemaking, such as rennet. Traditionally, rennet is from the lining of a calf’s stomach, and it contains the enzymes necessary to digest milk. Some European cheeses are still made with animal rennet from tradition, but in North America & Australia, about 90% of cheeses are made with rennet produced by genetically modified bacterial or fungal cultures and the quantity has been rising since the 90’s.
Long story short though, I finally found a recipe at a fellow Sydney food blog, Citrus and Candy, which used lemon juice instead of rennet (GMO or natural). As I have a tonne of lemons to use up at the moment (another result of our Hunter Valley trip, which you’ll hear more about later) this seemed a match made in heaven. I have to say that the success of this recipe has me wanting to make more kinds of cheeses and get experimental—I’m eyeing up some feta recipes next (which require only a week of aging), and pondering the possibilities of garlic, herb, fruit, etc. flavoured cheeses.
Ricotta cheese is also a new found love of mine. I hadn’t had it much until Luke’s nutritionist recommended he eat it on toast with honey for breakfast. If you’ve never had fresh ricotta on toast with honey—do it now. It’s one of the best and easiest breakfast treats I’ve ever had (plus, high in calcium and protein). However, ricotta that you often get packaged in supermarkets (Canadian and Australian) is pretty much crap. It’s runny and curdy and gives ricotta a bad name. True ricotta is fairly dry and crumbly, a bit like goat’s cheese or a very light cream cheese. Fortunately, ricotta seems to be such an easy cheese to make that any deli should have something good—but why buy it when you can make it yourself? I figure that the cumulative price of ricotta is about the same, or cheaper, if you make it yourself at home. Plus, you have control over all of the ingredients, so you can fully take advantage of all your local/organic dairy. Enjoy!
DIY Ricotta Cheese
From Citrus & Candy’s Homemade Ricotta Cheese Recipe
Makes: about 1 1/2 cup cheese
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Very, very easy
- 1 litre full cream cow’s milk (I used organic)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (strained)
- 1/4 tsp salt or to taste
You’ll also need cheesecloth, and a metal sieve or colander. I think cheesecloth would be the best (and reusable) option, but a new J-Cloth or Chuck did the job quite well. I’ve also read that paper towel works too, or muslin cloth. If you’re using cloth, rinse it beforehand. Heck, if your sieve has small enough holes it’d do pretty well on its own.
1. Pour milk, cream, and salt into a large saucepan and bring to a low rolling boil, stirring frequently to prevent a skin from forming on the top of the milk, and to keep it from scorching and sticking to the bottom. If milk starts foaming up, it’s done!
2. Add the two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, and reduce heat. Stir for a few minutes until the milk curdles. (The solid curds are what make the cheese, the leftover liquid is the whey.)
3. Line your sieve or colander with the cheesecloth, and pour your curdled milk through it. Sit it over a bowl and let it drain for 45 minutes to an hour, then cover and refrigerate. You can pick it up and squeeze out some moisture too, if you need to, but careful to not let it get too dry. Once the curds stick together and are slightly malleable, it’s done, and ready to be eaten as soon as you like.
And voila! You have a chunk of beautiful, creamy, crumbly, fresh ricotta cheese that tastes even better than store bought. I’m not sure how long it’ll last in your fridge, but I figure it’d be best eaten by the use-by date on your milk.