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.

Tips and tricks for great homemade cheese.

Here’s some tips and tricks for making delicious and safe milk and cheese at home.

Milking

  • Keep your bucks separated from your milkers. The most common complaint I’ve heard about goat products is that they are too strong, musky or goaty. This is often caused by a buck rubbing his stink all over the milkers. The subsequent musky (and that’s speaking kindly) aroma contaminates the milk with its taste.  If you like that strong taste power to you, but keep in mind others might not agree, and the marketability, or just appreciation, of your products may be diminished.
  • Keep udders and surrounding areas clean. The most important way to do this is to have proper, fresh, dry bedding in the barn. Regularly cleaning your barn will save you time in the milk room – muddy udders take elbow grease to clean up! Goats with a lot of hair or pantaloons may benefit from a dairy clip to keep hair and dirt out of the milk.
  • As you are milking always keep the milk you’ve already collected covered. This will prevent flies, dust, and other foreign objects from getting into you milk which is good for safety and flavor.
  • If you are using any lotions or ointments on your does’ udders, apply them after they are milked to avoid contaminating the milk with foreign flavors or chemicals.
  • Never use milk from a goat you suspect or know has mastitis.

Storage

  • Do not add fresh warm to a container of cold milk. This can cause off flavors and encourage bacterial growth by increasing the amount of time in the  temperature “danger zone.” Completely chill new milk before combining it with the previous batch.
  • Refrigerate milk and cheese products at 38-40F. This will extend the shelf life of milk and cheese. You may find it helpful to keep a thermometer in your fridge so you can keep an eye on the temperature.
  • When storing cheese, air is bad. Not only will air degrade the quality of cheese by disrupting the moisture content, it also aids bacteria growth. When storing soft cheese make sure to squish out all air pockets out. A good way to store hard cheese, particularly if you’re not using it quickly or if you cut into a wheel but want to make it last, is to vacuum seal it. (Note: as hard cheeses are aging they may need to breathe, so read and follow your recipe instructions carefully.)
  • I know many people feel strongly about using raw milk, but if you cannot quickly consume your raw milk cheese or are not ageing it, you may want to pasteurize it. Keep in mind, low-temp home pasteurization is much kinder on the milk and not nearly as many beneficial things are destroyed. My guidelines are: if I’m feeding it to other people, serving it in an environment prone to bacteria growth (think sitting out at a party for a few hours), or I’m giving it to someone else, I err on the safe side and pasteurize.
  • Cultures, lipase and molds go in the freezer. Rennet and CaCl (if you have it) go in the fridge.

Equipment

  • I use cheese making day as a reason to force me to clean my counters. First I scrub my sink and stove top, and then I clear my one counter of all items not being used for cheese, and sanitize the walls and countertop. This way I have a clean area to sanitize my equipment, and a clean area to dry it.
  • Make sure all equipment is thoroughly cleaned before sanitizing it. If there is any dried or stuck on material you cannot effectively sanitize the item. Bacteria need a place to live, and stubborn food particles are a lot more hospitable than stainless steel. Basically, if it’s still dirty you can’t make it bacteria free.
  • It is best to let sanitized items air dry. This allows any remaining bleach to gas off, and it’s more sanitary – towels often harbor bacteria. If you need to dry something use a paper towel.
  • Avoid pots with rivets on the inside and other equipment that has seams or crevices. These areas collect gunk and residue and become a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Make sure all equipment can be sterilized. For example, I avoid wooden spoons and those bamboo drying mats.
  • This can be tricky – pour your cultures into the measuring spoon instead of sticking the spoon into the cultures. This preserves the purity of the culture and helps prevent contamination.
  • Thoroughly rinse cheese cloths after use. If you are not washing them immediately, immerse them in water with some dish detergent and bleach.
  • If you have hemmed cheese clothes they can be washed in the washed machine. It’s best to use unscented detergent, add a generous amount of bleach and run an extra rinse cycle.

Happy and safe cheese making!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Milk Review: Dove Song Dairy (Goat)

I have made yogurt and chevre using Dove Song and have drank it straight. For drinking it has a nice full, creamy mouth feel. Both the texture and taste are slightly more rich and assertive than the average commercial goat milk. It also has a slight, but distinct musky goat hint which I enjoyed. However, when I made yogurt (using my recipe posted here) that hint of goat was greatly multiplied!  It was one of the most musky tasting goat products I’ve ever consumed. I generally prefer a stronger goat flavor – after all it *is* goat milk – but this was too much. I’m sad to say I couldn’t eat it and was worried about ruining baked goods by using it. This goatyness translated better in the chevre I made. It imparted a pleasant goaty profile without being  overwhelming. Such strong flavor can be caused by a number of things including type of breed and milk handling practices. In this case, I have to wonder if there is a buck being kept with the milkers.

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This milk is not for the feint of heart or those who are testing the waters of goat milk. However, if you’re a fan full flavored milk and cheese, give it a try.

I purchased Dove Song goat milk on several different occasions from the Kimberton Whole Foods, Pottstown location. Kimberton carries a range of sizes from pint to half gallon with prices from $2.30 to $6.49. It is consistently in stock and usually has a reasonably far out best buy date.This milk is raw. Depending on where you stand in the raw milk debate, you may need to pasteurize.

Check out their website at http://dovesongdairy.org/

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