Blessed are the Cheesemakers! I don’t know which motivates me more to make cheese: the promise of the satisfying flavors at the end, or the process itself. The sweet smell of milk being heated and the way the cheese curds get transformed before my eyes makes me squeal inwardly with glee. Shiny white blobs of curd draining in my colander make me feel like an alchemist that has just figured out the formula for making gold.
A basic repertoire of easy cheeses also means that, with a source of local milk, I can always keep cheeses on my plate during this local food month.
Lemon ricotta cheese, I think, should be everyone’s first cheese you try to make. It’s an easy and a relatively quick affair: the preparation takes no more than 30 minutes and an additional 1-3 hours of draining, depending on how firm you like your ricotta. To make lemon ricotta, all you need is milk (I use whole milk from our local creamery), lemon juice or vinegar, a dairy thermometer, strainer or colander, and cheesecloth.
Making Ricotta Cheese
- 1 gallon whole milk
- ¼-½ cup lemon juice (can be freshly squeezed)
- Instead of lemon juice, you can also use ¼ cup vinegar, 1 tsp citric acid dissolved in ¼ cup water, or buttermilk (1 quart per 1 gallon of milk)
Heat milk to 175 F degrees. Add lemon juice and stir. The cheese will curdle within 5 minutes. Pour into a strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth, tie the corners of the cloth together securely, and hang the cheese to drain until it is the consistency you like. I use hooks attach to the door handles of kitchen cupboard doors, but feel free to improvise. When the cheese is ready, take it out of the cheesecloth. At this point, you can flavor it as you wish. I make an herb spread by mixing in some minced fresh herbs, minced garlic, and salt to taste.
Wondering what to do with the whey that collects as the cheese drains? You can use it, for example, instead of milk in pancakes or baking. I also give it to the chickens for extra calcium.