In this post we’ll cover a simple semi-firm pressed cheese – ricotta salata. This is a great recipe for your first adventures in pressed cheese since the ricotta is so simple to make and the final product can be made using very basic equipment. You don’t need a cheese press and you don’t even need to cut any curds!To make this cheese you can use the ricotta recipe posted earlier one this site, and if you choose, your handmade mold from this post.
As the name implies ricotta salata is a salty cheese from Italy that uses ricotta as its base. It can be used fresh or aged for an extended time. When it’s young, ricotta salata is similar in taste to a Greek style feta. It works well served in an antipasto or as a garnish for pasta. Try substituting ricotta salata in any recipe that calls for feta. If you age it long enough it can be used as a grating cheese – sort of a poor man’s Parmesan. If you make several at a time you can sample the cheese at different stages of aging and see which you like best.
Like feta (which many of you have probably made) whey is sweated from the pressed ricotta using salt. This helps create a drier cheese while also imparting a salty tang. And, like feta this recipe is pretty forgiving. However, unlike feta it is not cultured and requires no rennet.
If, while making cheese, you accidentally heat the milk too high there’s a quick fix – add a few ice cubes. Only add a couple cubes at a time, and keep checking the temp as you go. If you add them too quickly you might drop the temperature too much. Don’t worry about the extra water the ice cubes are adding – this small volume will simply be expelled with the whey. Only do this if the milk is too warm by a reasonable amount – this isn’t a good solution if, for example, you went 60F over your mark. For a large temperature discrepancy you’re better just letting it cool or using a cool water bath.
Pickled garlic is a great intro to lacto-fermentation – it’s easy, tasty, versatile, and hard to mess up. Garlic has natural anti-microbial properties which inhibit the growth of mold and other undesirables, helping to ensure a successful batch. That’s not to say mold won’t/can’t grow on it, or that you don’t need to be watchful, but in my experience it’s less fickle than more delicate vegetables like cucumbers. Like all lacto-ferments, it’s important to use a proper brine to prevent dangerous microbial growth.
My local grocery store sells clearance vegetables, so I buy up any garlic that looks decent and make a batch before it starts sprouting. I can usually get 5+ heads for less than a $1 – such a bargain! This is also a great way to preserve home grown garlic, particularly varieties that don’t store well long term. If you’re fermenting with any regularity, keep a batch of brine in your fridge so you’ll be ready whenever the mood or sale strikes. I ferment my veggies wildly (i.e. don’t add a starter culture), but if you’re nervous about wild fermentation you can always use a vegetable starting culture. Veggie cultures can be purchased from many sites including Cultures for Health.
The leftover brine is infused with a lot of garlic flavor and pro-biotics so don’t chuck it! I like to add it to soups and homemade bread to give them a garlicky kick. Just remember there is salt in the brine, so reduce or eliminate any salt in your recipe. I haven’t tried this yet, but I think I’ll ferment a batch of other veggies in the garlic brine to add even more flavor. In this recipe I did not add a source of tannin (lack tea, grape leaves, etc.) to ensure crispness. Garlic is a lot more fibrous than other frequently fermented veggies, so I didn’t think it would much of a problem, and instead might make cooking with it easier.
Here’s an outline for making pickled garlic. You can do any volume you want as long as the you don’t change the brine ratio. Use kosher or sea salt, just not table salt for the brine. You can also add other herbs or spices to the jar. The garlic will absorb liquid and expand so don’t over pack your jar. If possible, add a weight on top of the garlic to keep it submerged. If garlic is poking up mold will grow on it! If this happens you can either chuck the offensive pieces (do this if they’ve become mushy!), or, if you caught quick it enough, you can just wipe it off and re-submerge it. I recommend using glass jars with screw on lids because they do not retain flavors and are easy to sterilize. For even better, more consistent results invest in, or make, a modified lid with an airlock. The speed of fermentation depends on several factors such as heat, present cultures, etc., so it’s hard to give an exact timeline.
I have a beautiful, but old, enameled cast iron sink. I love it, but it can’t hold water. No matter how much I fiddle with with the stoppers there is always a slow leak that drains the sink in a few hours. If you’re using your sink as a hot/cold water bath or trying to soak equipment, a leaky drain is a death knell for productivity. I’m sure I’m not alone in this problem so here’s a an fix.
I need to place a new culture order soon, including rennet. While I haven’t been disappointed with my double strength vegetable rennet, I feel it’s a little lacking. It just doesn’t seem to coagulant quite as efficiently as I would like, and I think the animal rennet might do a better job. Also, it will be an interesting comparison/experience for the cheese nerd in me.
I’ve been using vegetable rennet out of deference to any vegetarians in my classes. But, so far no one has said they were actually vegetarian or asked about making 100% vegetarian cheese, so I might have imagined a problem where there wasn’t one. Of course, in my classes I explain where rennet originated from and that most cheese is not technically vegetarian (I say technically because it’s such a small amount.) Also, I use lipase, which has no vegetarian alternative, in a number of my cheeses so, to some extent, it’s an unavoidable problem.
If my theory proves correct, I’ll of course make a post about it. If you have any personal experiences or opinions about the difference please share in the comments!
• 1 Gallon whole raw or pasteurized milk
• ¼ White vinegar
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• Salt to taste (optional)
1. In a 6qt+ non-reactive pot slowly bring 1 gallon whole milk to between 185-195 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. This should take 15 minutes or more.
2. Add ¼ cup white vinegar. Stir once and let stand for 10 minutes. You should see the curds start separating from the whey. Check periodically. If the curds are not separating enough add 1 tablespoon of vinegar at time until whey is not milky looking.
3. While you’re waiting, line a colander with damp cheesecloth (depending on the weave you may need to fold it a few times) and set colander over a pot or in a sanitized sink.
4. Drain ricotta into colander. Don’t scrape the bottom! It will get scorched bits in your beautiful ricotta. Let drain briefly – the longer it drains the thicker and drier it will be.
5. Transfer to container and whisk in baking soda.
6. Add salt if desired, then refrigerate.