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.

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Spinach Cream Cheese Pie

I recently made a batch of “real” cream cheese for a demo and had a fair amount left over. It’s good on bagels and there’s many many deserts that use cream cheese, but I wanted to create main dish that featured it. I love the synergy of spinach and cheese (as my posted recipes suggest) so I combined them in a savory pie along with garlic and dill. Feel free to adjust the seasoning (or any of it) to your taste. For as few ingredients as this has, it comes out surprisingly hearty yet very refined.

Real cream cheese is about 1000x better than then the store bought variety and very simple to make, so you should use it for this recipe if possible. Store bought cream cheese will obviously work, but it’s won’t be nearly as luscious and decadent. I did use store bought pie crust though (only so much time in the day). I also opted for frozen spinach, but fresh spinach will work if you chop and steam/saute/etc it.

I’m not vegetarian in the slightest,  but the richness of the cheese and the mineral/irony quality of the spinach makes for a filling and very satisfying meatless dish. Originally I planned on adding canned salmon but changed my mind, and I’m glad I did. I think any animal protein will make the dish overwhelming/just too rich. If you do want to add meat any fish, lamb or beef could work, but make sure to cut back the cream cheese.

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dry dill
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lb frozen chopped spinach (defrosted and thoroughly drained)
  • 2 pie crusts brought to room temp.
  • 8 oz (ish) fresh homemade cream cheese (room temp is better)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400F.
  2. Mix all ingredients together. Make sure the cream cheese is thoroughly blended.
  3. Line glass pie plate with first pie crust. Pour in filling. Place top crust on and seal by pinching the the edges together and trim off excess. Make a few punctures on top for steam to escape.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is bubbling in the center. You may want to wrap foil around the edges partially through cooking to prevent them from getting too dark.
  5. Enjoy!

Gin Twist Pickles

Recently I found bags of perfect baby pickles on sale, so it was time to come up with pickle recipes! I love juniper berries, and I just happen to have a pound bag full in my cabinet which I need to put a dent in. For inspiration I riffed a gin flavor profile by including juniper and and several other traditional gin herbs and a few more savory  elements to ground them. They turned out surprisingly sophisticated. Not genuinely ginny, but with some of that herbaceousness and a bit of zip mimicked by the lactic acid.

This recipe is for a lacto-fermented pickle but could easily be adapted for regular canning methods. I left the cucumbers whole to help maintain their crispness. If you use small ones they fit nicely in a mason quart jar. It is also helpful to included a source of tannin which helps create a crisp texture. You can use several natural sources – more on that another time – but the easiest way method is to steep a black tea bag in the brine. Yes, it will slightly tinge your brine, but one you get everything in the jar it’s hardly noticeable. I used 1 tea bag for 4 quarts. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide to lacto-fermentation, so check out some other sources if you’re not familiar with the process.  I don’t add whey for these reasons.

I didn’t have the foresight to document this at the time, so sorry there’s not photos!

For the Brine:

  • solution of non-iodized salt and water in a 2 table./1 quart ratio.
  • some sort of tannin for crispness

For 1 Quart Jar of Pickles

  • 2 large sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 tea. coriander
  • 3 table. crushed juniper berries
  • 1/4 tea. mustard seed
  • 1 garlic clove sliced into several pieces
  • a few sprigs fresh dill fronds
  • 5-6 baby cucumbers
  • 4-5 small pickling or pearl onions
  1. Rinse the cucumbers, onions and fresh herbs. Slice the tips off both ends of the cucumbers and peel the onions. Prepare fresh herbs.
  2.  Add onions and garlic to bottom of the jar. Add dry spices. Add the cucumbers so they are standing on end while also layering in the dill and rosemary between them.
  3. Fill the jar with brine so that everything is well covered. Try to leave an inch or two of head space. Weight the cucumbers so they don’t float (word of warning, they might not float initially, but don’t be fooled – they will later on). Screw the lid on loosely so the CO2 can escape as the fermentation happens.
  4. Store in a dark temperature stable for about a week. Fermentation will progress at different speeds depending on the ambient temperature. After a week start tasting your pickles. Keep fermenting them until you achieve the desired amount of zing.
  5. Once they’re done, tighten the lids and store in the fridge.

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.

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.

Ricotta, Sausage and Spinach Linguine

Here’s a great way to use your homemade ricotta. Although I came up with this based ingredients in my kitchen, it has a rich but delicate taste belies it’s simplicity. (Serves 4+)

  • 2-3 hot Italian sausages
  • 1 box frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 box linguine
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (drained)
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1+ Tablespoon minced garlic (or to taste)
  • 2 Tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
  • Ricotta – yield from 1 gallon
  • Salt to taste
  1. Cut sausages into 1 inch discs. Cook in the oven or pan fry.
  2. Sauté garlic in a few tablespoons olive oil over medium low until garlic changes color slightly.
  3. Defrost spinach. Press out extra liquid.
  4. Add shrimp and sauté till just heated through (don’t overcook or it will be rubbery!).  Set aside.
  5. Cook pasta.
  6. Add ricotta, tomatoes, tomato sauce and oregano to garlic and shrimp. Heat on medium low until hot through – don’t heat too high or too quickly or the quality of the ricotta will be compromised.
  7. Add pasta and mix until coated. Enjoy!

No-strain Greek Yogurt at Hoegger

My Greek Yogurt Article at Hoegger

Here’s my article detailing how to make a straining free Greek yogurt by fortifying your milk.

http://hoeggerfarmyard.com/great-greek-yogurt-at-home

Goat Greek Yogurt

Ricotta Shrimp Pasta

Just made ricotta? It’s great for lasagna of course, but I like to let the delicate sweet flavor of homemade ricotta shine. Here’s my favorite recipe that I’ve come up with so far. (Serves 4+)

  • 1lb Shrimp (cooked and cleaned)
  • 1 box Angel Hair Spaghetti
  • 1 Tablespoon dried chili flakes
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (drained)
  • 1+ Tablespoon minced garlic (or to taste)
  • 2 Tablespoon fresh chopped basil
  • Ricotta – yield from 1 gallon
  • Salt to taste
  1. Sauté garlic and chili flakes in a few tablespoons olive oil over medium low until garlic changes color slightly.
  2. Add shrimp and sauté till just heated through (don’t overcook or it will be rubbery!).  Set aside.
  3. Cook pasta.
  4. Add ricotta, tomatoes and basil to garlic and shrimp. Heat on medium low until hot through – don’t heat to high or too quickly or the quality of the ricotta will be compromised.
  5. Add pasta and mix until coated. Enjoy!

How to Make Great Easy Ricotta at Home

My First Cheese Article

Hoegger is an amazing goat supply site with lots of goat products, cheese making supplies and goat love paraphernalia. They have  wonderful staff, great customer service and a informative goat community to boot! Hoegger is actually a big part of why I become seriously interested in goats. I’d always had a love of goats, but after looking through their catalog I realized I needed to learn more. Anyway, here’s a link to my article about easy Delicious homemade ricotta. This recipe works well with goat’s or cow’s milk.

http://hoeggerfarmyard.com/how-to-rock-at-ricotta-cheese/

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