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.
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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.

Home Cheese Making

Private classes & parties available.

For tips, recipes, and class updates visit http://www.fermenton.wordpress.com

Goggle Works: Reading, PA                                   www.goggleworks.org

Greek Yogurt & Cheese           2 Days: Tuesdays, April 29 & May 6, 6-9pm

All About Chevre                                   1 Day: Monday, May 5, 6-9pm

The Cheese Maker’s Pantry: Cultured Sour Cream   June 11, 6-9pm

Cheeses of Italy                            2 Days:  Tuesdays May 20 & 27, 6-9pm

More details and registration with their spring/summer catalog.

Cooking Spotlight: Phoenixville, PA                   www.cookingspotlight.com

Art of Cheese Making — Italian Style         February 25– 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.

Learn to make two simple and delicious Italian cheeses in your own kitchen using mostly supplies you already own! We will cover how to make a heavenly ricotta and a decadent mascarpone, then show you how to use them in two different dishes. Register early as space is limited. (Online enrolment on their site.)

Hard Cider Clearing

hard cider color

All fall and winter I’ve been busy making hard cider. The photo above is my last batch for the season – 2 gallons of Honey Crisp and 2 of Granny Smith using Belgian and Bavarian yeasts, no sugar added. Three days after I added the yeast the fermentation absolutely exploded – first time I’ve had it overflow through the blow-off tube! What’s interesting, though, is the extent 3 of the 4 gallons cleared. Previously all my batches have turned out like the middle gallon. I do not rack to a secondary fermenter or  add any fining agents. Because of the extremely active fermentation I left the blow-off tubes on the three clearer gallons rather than put an airlock on. On the hazy one, I switched it to an airlock once the fermentation calmed down. Truthfully, I noticed they were clearing faster without the airlock so I left the tubes in place to see what would happen. I really like a hazy cider, but this was too interesting to pass up. I’m not exactly sure why they are so different. I  assume it has something to do with amount of oxygen/air or possibly some of the sanitizer gassing off into the tube (?). I plan on doing some investigating, but if anyone knows why this happened I’d love to hear it! I have taste tested (and bottled) all four gallons and there seems to be no noticeable difference in taste aside from the variation of yeast and apple strains. Fermentation never ceases to amaze me!

cider color 2

Ricotta Salata – Hoegger Article

Ricotta Salata – Hoegger Article

This month for the Hoegger cheese blog I wrote about making ricotta salata. It’s a simple pressed cheese made from ricotta that can be used fresh or aged to make a grating cheese (sort of a poor man’s parmigiano). It’s a great intro to pressed cheeses since it requires no cultures or rennet, has minimal aging requirements and can be pressed in a homemade mold. Check out my previous ricotta post for the base and my guide to homemade cheese molds to finish it.

http://hoeggerfarmyard.com/how-to-make-ricotta-salata-a-simple-pressed-cheese/

Draining the Curds

Draining the Curds

Cheese Making Outside of Philly Feb 25

If there’s anyone in the greater Philly area interested in cheese making I have a class on Feb 25 at the wonderful cooking spotlight in Phoenixville PA. In class we will cover basic cheese making principles by covering two Italian cheeses – ricotta & mascarpone. Students will leave being able to confidently make a variety of soft cheeses at home using mostly supplies you already own. For a full description and to sign up follow their link:

http://www.cookingspotlight.com/ai1ec_event/art-of-cheese-making-italian-style/?instance_id=1513

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.

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.

herbs3

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.

Getting started in home cheese making.

The cheesemaking supply and equipment lists in instructional books can be overwhelming – in sheer number of items and prospective cost. While all are useful items, these lists tend to be exhaustive about you potential needs. Until you become a committed cheese maker and/or want to make the financial investment, you can comfortably make cheese with a surprisingly few number of items. Many you may already have in your kitchen.

All items should be easy to clean and sanitize. Avoid equipment that has too many seams or rivets. Matter can get trapped in those crevices and be a breeding ground for bacteria. Metal and glass is preferable, but most non-porous materials are acceptable. All metal items should be made of a non-reactive metal like stainless steel (don’t use aluminum). Bigger is better. From experience I can tell you, extra room in a pot is far preferable to spending hours of stirring intently focused on not splashing the milk. For oversized items, check out your restaurant supply store. They have great items for reasonable prices. Specialty items like cultures and rennet can be purchased from cheese making supply companies and sites like Hoegger.

Buying things as you need them or as you progress in your skills is an effective way to manage you costs. For example, I only buy different molds as I make cheeses that require them. Or, if your handy you might be able to recycle or fabricate your own supplies. As you progress it may easier to have a “cheese making only” set of equipment. Then, you’ll be able to make cheese regardless of your dinner plans while improving your sanitation practices.

Curd Knife: A straight frosting knife or a roast/carving knife (like the kind you see at restaurant carving stations) works well. Ten inch length is a good size for larger pots. They can be purchased at restaurant supply stores or some cheese making sites.

Curd Ladle: This is basically a perforated ladle used to transfer curds. One that can hold a fair amount of curds and had a sturdy handle will serve you best.

Pots: If you are using a gallon of milk or less you can get by with a 6 quart pot (fairly common stock pot size). If you plan on doing larger volumes you will be a 10 plus quart pot. Make sure you have a lid that fits well (preferably clear)

Colander: The maximum size that will fit in your pot is best. The colander size usually limits the amount of curd you can fit in your cloth. More holes will improve your draining.

cheese supplies3

Thermometer: Most food safe thermometers will work fine. Just make sure it reads to at least 220 and check its accuracy. I like one I can stir with to get a more accurate reading.

Timer: Any household timer will do. I like one with a clip on so I don’t walk away and leave it somewhere.

Hygrometer/Thermometer: This measuring the temperature and humidity in your house. Very useful when you hanging cheese or other processes that affected by humidity and temperature.

Cheese Cloth: Most cheese supplies will carry one of several types of cheese cloths. I’ve found they can be of varying quality and usefulness. Floor sacking is an affordable and durable alternative (you can even run it through you washing machine). You can also cut up an old pillow case for cheese cloth.

chese supplies1

Measuring Spoons: The most important spoons for the home cheese maker are the 1/8 and ¼ teaspoons, although, the whole set does get used. Make sure whatever set you buy includes the 1/8 teaspoon.

Measuring Cups: A glass cup with different measurements written on the side will be the most useful. I keep 1 and 2 cups ones.

Spatula

Culture: The isolated “good” bacteria of cheese making that acidify the milk and develop flavor. There are many cultures out there but you can’t go wrong with mixed strain mesophillic – the workhorse of home cheese maker. Today most cultures are sold as direct set – freeze dried and ready to add directly to milk. Sore these in the freezer unless otherwise noted.

Renet: Milk coagulant. Can be animal derived or microbial (vegetarian safe). Store in fridge.

Lipase: Animal derived enzyme added to some cheeses to add “picante” flavor. Most commonly used in Greek feta. Comes in calf (mild), sheep (medium), and goat (strong). Also stored in freezer.

Calcium Chloride: added when using pasteurized milk to bump up the calcium for chemical reactions. Stored in fridge.

cheese supplies 2
Vinegar: Many basic fresh cheese use vinegar. Apple cider or white will work.

Salt: Cheese salt can purchased from specialty supplies, but kosher or sea salt work equally well.

Bleach or Other Sanitizer: Remember, sanitization of equipment is a very important part of cheese making. Follow label on bottle for proper dilutions. A spray bottle with diluted

sanitizer is handy for work spaces.

Molds: A few very basic molds are good to have until you move up to press. Twoor more ricotta or fresh cheese molds work well for most semi-firm/low pressure cheeses. You can make weights yourself with household items like water bottles or brinks wrapped in foil. You can also make molds by punching holes in the bottom of left over plastic containers.

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