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.
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.
I plan on doing a more in-depth look at cheese cloths (types, where to buy, etc.) in the future, but since I often get asked “how do I clean them” in my classes, I thought I’d post on the topic now.
I only buy hemmed flour sacking. If your cloths are not hemmed, the flowing method may destroy them. However, it is THE BEST way to get them truly clean and also the least labor intensive. Which, long story short is why I recommend flour sacking.
Like, most home cheese makers I’m always in the pursuit of productive ways to use up that plentiful cheese byproduct – whey. After making a hard cheese you have roughly 2 gallons of whey – that’s a substantial amount to try an use! A great solution is to put your whey to work in your yard or garden as either a plant enhancer or killer.
As many of you probably already know, whey is acidic. In the garden this can be helpful or harmful depending on what kind of plants you have. Acid loving plants can benefit greatly from a whey amendment (i.e. pour whey around the base of the plant.) Essentially your acidifying the soil. In fact, some plants require acidic soil to thrive. If you’ve ever planted or tried to grow a blueberry bush, you probably acidified the soil in the desired location before you planted it. If plants that require acid do not have the proper soil ph they can fail to thrive or become sickly. In addition to blueberries, pine trees, azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas all prefer acidic soil and can benefit from whey. Hydrangeas are the most noticeably affected by whey as the blooms become a bright beautiful blue with sufficient acid. To do this, pour the whey on the soil around your plant where the roots would be. Don’t get it on, or to close to, the plant itself, as this may damage delicate plants. Don’t go overboard, and do it too often, as too much acid can be just as bad as too little. If you’re in doubt about a specific plant or overloading on the acid, I’d advise doing some research and ph testing your soil.
Whey can also be a great organic plant killer. For neutral or alkaline soil dwellers, whey can sufficiently affect the soil ph to make it inhospitable to the point of death (there’s more chemistry, microorganisms, etc. to it, but I’m not a horticulturalist.) All you do is pour the whey directly on and around the plants you want to kill. The effect might not be be immediately noticeable (after all, we’re talking about whey, not Roundup), but with enough applications you can kill a lot plants. First plants will change to a yellow color – that means it’s working. They will continue to look more sickly and weak if you keep adding whey. Hardy weeds might not be killed completely but they will be greatly weakened and stop spreading. I have a spot in my backyard between my fence and the neighbor’s that is very weed prone but difficult to get at, so I’ve been whey bombing it. I grow veggies near by so non-organic solutions are out of the question and I have a lot leftover whey, so it’s win-win (albeit a little slow.) Be careful as you pour the whey or you will become sticky where it splashes. Keep in mind you’re not just killing the plant itself, you’re also changing the ph of the soil which will affect what can and will grow there in the future.