Ricotta Salata – A Simple Pressed & Salted Cheese

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.

Supplies

  • Ricotta – yield from ½ gallon will fill 1 mold
  • Non-iodized salt
  • 1 or more molds – fresh or ricotta style, or ones you made yourself

Instructions

  1. Make ricotta. Use your tried and true recipe or the one previously posted here.
  2. Line mold(s) with a damp cheese cloth. Ladle the curds into the mold(s).
  3. Fold cheese cloth over curds trying to keep it flat as possible. Add follower if you have one. Press at 10lbs for at least 12 hours or overnight, flipping once. Depending on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen you may need to press it at a slightly higher weight or for a longer time for the curds to knit together properly. It’s ready when it is a semi-solid brick.IMG_3143IMG_6588
  4. Generously salt all sides of the cheese and transfer to a storage container and refrigerate (in a cheese cave if possible).  Ideally the cheese should be raised off the bottom of the container so it’s not sitting in the whey, but if you drain the whey off every day it will be fine.IMG_2588
  5. Continue salting, draining and flipping the cheese every other day until you have repeated this 7 times.
  6. Rub off an extra salt and pat dry. Wrap in cheese paper and store in your fridge for the desired length of time.

Fool Proof Home Made Ricotta at a Glance

 

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• 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.

Flawless Ricotta Every Time and Other Thoughts

If you’ve ventured into the world of cheese making, you’ve probably made ricotta. Since it’s very easy to make, yet yields a surprisingly sophisticated product, it is an ideal starter cheese. But, don’t be dismissive of ricotta. Even after graduating to much more complex cheese projects, I find myself returning to its delicate sweetness and ephemeral texture. Not to mention, it’s a workhorse in the kitchen and a mainstay of Italian- American cooking.  Cheese makers of all levels should be interested in a quick but excellent ricotta. So, if you’ve had problems with your ricotta making or would like to improve an already good recipe, I have a tip for you – baking soda.

While doing research for the cheese making class I teach, I read and tested a number of published ricotta recipes. As you may already know, ricotta is an acid precipitated cheese. That is, instead of using cultures or cultures and rennet to make the milk solids, (i.e. curds separate from the whey) an acid is used to complete the reaction. The specific acid varies from recipe to recipe, but the most common are citric acid powder and vinegar, either the white or apple cider variety.  After comparing several recognized recipes’ methods and ingredients I was surprised to find the recipe I’d been taught as an apprentice had an addition – baking soda.

Recipes frequently warn you not to use too much acid when precipitating the curd. This is because excess acid will impart sour or bitter flavors to your finished product. However, you want to get as much solids out of the whey as you can for the best texture and yield. If your whey still appears milky after you’ve added your acid and stirred, it’s suggested you slowly add more (with vinegar 1 teaspoon at a time) until it achieves complete precipitation – i.e. all the ricotta you’re going to get is floating in completely used up whey. If this is your first time you may not know what to look for, and the thought of possibly ruining your beautiful cheese is daunting. Or, if you want this to be quick and easy as can be there’s a simple solution – baking soda.

Baking soda is a basic compound and acid is, of course, an acid. As you probably learned in grade-school science class, if these two opposites meet, a chemical reaction occurs.  When you add the baking soda (after you’you’ve strained off the whey), any unused acid left in the ricotta reacts with it and is then neutralized. Yes, there will be some white foam like those science fair experiments, but that means it is doing its job – getting rid on any potential off flavors.

I agree you don’t want to go unduly overboard with your acid, but I also want this to be a “can make it in your sleep” kind of recipe. So, instead of trying to find the perfect equilibrium of acid for curd formation, I just add a splashes or “glugs” of vinegar one at a time until I think it looks right. If I overdo it a little I don’t worry – the baking soda will correct my liberal hand. It eliminates any sour flavors while also removing cheese related stress!

Here’s my tried and true ricotta recipe, but the addition of baking soda will work in any recipe, so feel free to incorporate it into your own. Just add it after you’re done straining and watch it work its magic (or really chemistry!). With this method I have never had anything but sweet, delicate fluffy ricotta. (Yet, anyway!).

Whole Milk Ricotta

• 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.

No Strain Greek Yogurt at a Glance.

Simple Greek Yogurt Recipe

  • 4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (no preservatives or additives)
  • 6 cups milk
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • Stainless Steel Pot
  • Thermometer

1. Let yogurt come to room temp (this makes it easier to incorporate.)

2. Add powdered milk and milk to pan. Heat to 110F over medium heat. Stir regularly to prevent scorching. Smooth out any powdered milk lumps with spoon.

3. Once 110F is reached, add the yogurt and remove from heat. Try to completely incorporate the yogurt and work out any lumps.

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4. Transfer to sterilized containers for incubation.

5. Maintain 110F for 6-12 hours (longer incubation creates tangier flavor). This is easiest  to do in a cooler with 120 degree water added to it or in a crock pot, turn the heat on and off as needed to maintain temp. (Test the temperature of your crock pot before using. Many will run to hot, even on warm, to leave it turned on.).

6. Chill for 6 hours and enjoy!

This is what your finished product should look like. There may be a little whey sitting on top, but overall, it should be thing and move away from the jar as a blob.

Chevre Log Perfection

I bet those vacuum sealed logs you find at most grocery stores are not the kind chevre you’ve been dreaming of making. Hand rolling is the traditional, and best, way to achieve chevre greatness, through a beautifully smooth texture and the perfect denseness. By making your own logs you will never again have to settle on bland herb combinations – the flavors you can choose are endless and catered to your palate. Plus, it’s like play dough for grownups.

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As with any cheese, starting with fresh quality milk makes a huge difference. The final texture and workability of the chevre is based on the moisture content. You want it to be on the drier side, though, not so dry it won’t spread. Hanging for about 24 hours should produce good results, as long as the ambient temperature and humidity isn’t too extreme. After your cheese is done hanging, mix in salt (if using), and refrigerate for at least four hours.

The temperature of the chevre is an important factor of rolling. Cold chevre is stiffer and will crack more easily. On the other hand, warm cheese will stick to surfaces and be difficult to shape. There ideal point is between pliability and wetness.  If the chevre becomes too warm from working it, just stick it back in the fridge to chill.

Lumps in chevre are the enemy! They are formed by moisture inconsistencies that develop while the cheese is hanging. The outside, and particularly the top edge, is drier than the inside, so when you mix them together small lumps are formed by the bits of dry cheese. To eliminate these lumps and create a heavenly smooth chevre, you must work out the lumps by hand. I call it the cheese knead. After the cheese is completely chilled, divide it into equal sized portions. Gently work through each portion with your fingers. Feel for lumps and squish them between your forefingers and thumb. Once all the lumps are gone, form the chevre into oblong or elongated ball shapes. Starting with the general log shape decreases the amount of rolling needed later.

Now for the rolling! You need a surface that the chevre won’t stick to and that won’t move around too much. A chilled marble cutting board works great, but a large sheet of wax paper taped to the counter will suffice. Start by applying a firm but gentle pressure in the center of the chevre ball and roll it away then towards you (it’s just like making play dough snakes). Continue working it back and forth until it reaches your desired length. There will be cracks! When this happens just mash it back into a ball and start over. To finish, tap the ends with your hands until they are even and smooth. If you’re cheese it to wet and/or warm to be properly worked, you can follow the follow the same process but roll them into balls instead.

Plain chevre is delightful, but the real joy of logs is the endless flavor combinations you can create. Pick out your favorite herbs and spices to make combinations that suite you. Fresh herbs are most rewarding but dried ones work well.

herbs2You have several options on how you apply the herbs and spices. Mixing them into the cheese itself will create a uniform, stronger flavor. Also, depending on what you’re using it can lightly tint the cheese. For example, honey can add a beautiful sunny hue to your cheese. If you want a milder flavor, you can just drizzle or sprinkle the log. A combination of both will give you great flavor and presentation. Rolling the log in dried herbs, coating all sides of the log more thickly, is another option. I find this method can be overwhelming and uneven in flavor – too much and only on the outside. You can also add liquids like maple syrup for flavor. Make sure not to overdo it or logs will become impossible to handle as they become very wet.

The moisture in fresh herbs can adversely affect the cheese after several days. It will make the cheese unpleasantly runny and ultimately decrease its shelf life, so serve it within a few days. Conversely, the moisture in cheese will affect dried herbs. With dried varieties it’s best to make the logs a day in advance so that herbs will be soften, but not turn mushy or unsightly. Some herbs may discolor the cheese. This can work in your favor or make ugly cheese.

Popular chevre combinations are Herbs de Provence, blueberry vanilla, cracked peppercorn and cinnamon cranberry.  I like to make dill & chives, maple walnut and honey sage.  But, the sky is really the limit – basil, fennel, garlic, cilantro, coco, rosemary, sesame seeds etc. Try herbs paired with the food you’re serving or the wine you’re drinking, like lemon thyme with a chardonnay.

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Hands down my personal favorite is honey lavender. Used in moderation, lavender adds a wonderful floral hint and bright citrusy notes. Using a quality raw honey adds a touch of sweet earthiness, while beautifully complimenting the lavender. Add a tablespoon or more of honey to the cheese then roll. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon (depending on the size of log) of lavender on top of the log. For a gorgeous presentation, sprinkle buds on the serving plate and drizzle honey across the top. It’s best to refrigerate the log for 24 hours to rehydrate the buds. Lavender can be obtained at many health food stores or ordered online. Make sure you buy edible grade buds, preferably organic. Don’t be intimated by the price – it is very light and a little goes a long way. I urge you to give it a try!

There are many chevre recipes out there – feel free to use your favorite or check out Mary Jane Toth’s on Hoegger’s site. I personally prefer a recipe that uses a dash of rennet (like Toth’s) to get a firm, consistent texture ideal for chevre log rolling. Just remember you don’t want the cheese too wet or it will be messy and difficult to roll.

No Strain Greek Yogurt Recipe and Other Thoughts

Greek yogurt is, hands down, the ‘it’ item in the dairy aisle today. Companies are now expanding their empire to include everything from Greek yogurt cream cheese to frozen Greek yogurt pops. Sadly, the price tag on these items is not as friendly as the flavor, so here are some tips and tricks to make great Greek yogurt at home, as well as an easy to follow recipe using store bought yogurt as a starter, and a little more information on what you may be buying.

If you’ve checked out the slick packaging on Greek yogurt, you’ve probably noticed many of them are labeled as ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’. Those terms indicate the yogurt has been strained (i.e. whey expelled) to create a thicker, creamier product.  Advertisers may be using those terms a bit loosely, since they are using cow’s milk and commercial cultures, but that is the primary difference between Greek and regular yogurt.

Since whey is expelled from Greek yogurt, it has a much lower yield (as much as 4 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of yogurt) than regular yogurt. That, and the cost associated with the proper disposal of such large volumes of whey (which is quite acidic), explains, at least in part, the higher cost of Greek yogurt. Whey disposal is an interesting and complicated problem companies are facing as Greek yogurt takes a larger and larger part of the market share. If you’re interested in learning more about Greek yogurt’s carbon footprint or the technology being utilized to deal with surplus whey, such as electricity producing whey digesters, NPR has several articles online.

If you have livestock, bake a lot of bread or have acid loving plants, you probably embrace whey as a by-product of cheese-making. I, however, get flashbacks to my working stay at farmstead dairy where I regularly hauled overflowing five gallon buckets filled with whey, two at a time through the summer heat. After being doused in that sticky substance enough times, I avoid it if possible. On a more intellectual note, I dislike the idea of losing the extra protein, vitamins and minerals contained in whey – why strain out the healthy parts? Besides, straining is an extra step that takes up time, space, and makes more dirty dishes. So, here’s a way to skip all that – fortify your milk. By fortifying with powdered milk you increase the milk solids such as lactose and protein available for the cultures to act on and with, without increasing the liquid volume. This cuts out the straining step, by creating a thicker product during incubation. When adding the powdered milk, try to add it slowly or sift it in to avoid grainy lumps in your finished product. This is not traditional Greek yogurt, but it will produce the same results both in texture and flavor with less waste.

For this recipe I use store bought Greek yogurt as the starter culture. Freeze dried cultures are available, and if you prefer, can be used instead by following the package’s instructions. Always, use only plain yogurt and check the ingredient list to make sure there are no preservatives, stabilizers or other fillers, and that the yogurt has live cultures. Almost all commercial Greek yogurt has the same four basic cultures: S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus and L. Casei.  Hence, most brands will work equally well, but if there is a brand you prefer because it’s organic, rBST or gluten free, etc. use that. To inoculate the milk, I use a ratio of two tablespoons of yogurt for three cups of milk. You can use whatever volume of milk you like by adjusting the ratio. It’s best to bring the yogurt to room temperature before incorporating it, as this will help reduce lumps. Smooth out any lumps with your spatula as you stir. If any remain they will rise to the surface of the milk while it’s incubating, and you can skim them off before refrigeration.

After your fortified milk is at temperature (110F) and you’ve incorporated the yogurt starter, carefully transfer it to dry sterilized containers. I like to use ball jars – they’re easy to sterilize, can withstand a wide range of temperatures, and are leak proof. Rest the lids on the jars and screw the fastener on loosely during incubation.  (Do not screw it all the way on!).

For yogurt to reach its final consistency and tangy taste it needs to be incubated at constant temperature for an extended time. The ideal temperature for yogurt is around 110F (I aim for +/- 2 degrees). The length of incubation will affect the thickness and flavor of the final result. Generally the yogurt will begin to set up after 6 hours, but it will be thin and very mild. I let mine incubate for 12 hours or longer – preferably overnight.

crock pot water bath     There are several easy methods for incubation – a yogurt making machine like Yogotherm, a cooler, or a crock pot (the latter two methods are basically temperature stable water baths.). For the cooler method add enough 120 degree water to come up to the neck of the yogurt containers and securely close the cooler lid. Put the cooler somewhere warm and out of the way (so it won’t get bumped). If you’re going to use a crock pot, find out what its running temperature is on low by filling it half full of water, leaving it turned on with the lid on for an hour, then checking the water temperature. Mine runs at about 125 on warm, so I heat it up then turn it off before adding my yogurt containers (again, make sure the water is not higher than the neck of your smallest container.). If yours runs closer to 110, try making a batch with it left on. Turn the pot back on warm as needed to maintain the correct temperature. In colder weather you can wrap the crock pot with a towel (cover the lid) to help retain heat. For both these methods I check the water temperature about every four hours.

How fast the water bath temperature drops is greatly affected by the ambient room temperature, so if your house is 60F, expect to check and reheat more often than if it’s 80. If the temperature drops too much your product isn’t ruined, but the cultures will slow down or stop. If that happens just bring the water back up to temp and expect to have a longer incubation time to compensate for the lost time. However, it’s important not to let the yogurt’s temperature get above 115 for any extended amount of time. It will kill the cultures and all you’ll have made is warm milk

It may be possible to hold back some of your previous batch as a mother culture for the next batch. However, if you plan on doing this I would suggest you start with a purchased culture designed for this purpose. The cultures used for commercial yogurt are not necessarily selected for their longevity or continued vigor, so as more batches are made the balance of different bacterial strains will not shift, and some may even be lost all together.  Heirloom cultures (same idea as heirloom veggies) are a great option for mother cultures or to use as a normal starter culture which link us to generations of previous cheese makers.

A few other things to note… Cow’s milk can be substituted without any changes to the recipe. This recipe does not “scald” the milk (bringing it to 180F+). In most yogurt recipes scalding is basically pasteurizing the milk. If you are using raw milk and would like it pasteurized, follow regular pasteurizing instructions then let the milk cool to 110F.

 

Greek Yogurt Recipe

  • 4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (no preservatives or additives)
  • 6 cups milk
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • Stainless steel pot
  • Thermometer

1. Let yogurt come to room temp (this makes it easier to incorporate.)

2. Add powdered milk and milk to pan. Heat to 110F over medium heat. Stir regularly to prevent scorching. Smooth out any powdered milk lumps with spoon.3. Once 110F is reached, add the yogurt and remove from heat. Try to completely incorporate the yogurt and work out any lumps.

4. Transfer to sterilized containers for incubation.

5. Maintain 110F for 6-12 hours (longer incubation creates tangier flavor). This is easiest  to do in a cooler with 120 degree water added to it or in a crock pot, turn the heat on and off as needed to maintain temp. (Test the temperature of your crock pot before using. Many will run to hot, even on warm, to leave it turned on.).

6. Chill for 6 hours and enjoy!

This is what your finished product should look like. There may be a little whey sitting on top, but overall, it should be thing and move away from the jar as a blob.

This is what your finished product should look like. There may be a little whey sitting on top, but overall, it should be thing and move away from the jar as a blob.

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