Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Make Ricotta Cheese!

A name like Self-Sufficiency Sundays doesn’t necessarily mean every Sunday, right? Or even most Sundays? Maybe I’ll rename it Self-Sufficiency Whenever the Hell I Feel Like It.

Okay, in all seriousness, I got waylaid for quite awhile with about ten futile attempts to make whole wheat bread. The recipe I’ve been trying over and over again – the basic whole wheat recipe from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, just doesn’t work with the flour that’s available to me. After kneading the dough for about 20 minutes, it’s supposed to become smooth and elastic; if the gluten strands remain brittle after that, the book says, you’re working with old, bad flour. Laurel must live on top of a mill or something, because I’ve tried it with three different kinds and not a single loaf has risen properly. But I’m going to try another recipe that calls for gluten flour and the creation of a sponge, so while I’m annoyed at having to buy more processed ingredients, I guess I can’t escape the food system in which I’m working.

But in the midst of my latest whole wheat loaf of disappointment, I managed to cheer myself up by making my own cheese. My husband and I went camping last weekend and left behind a half gallon of milk that I’d just bought, forgetting that we were about to leave town. The milk would have just gone bad if The Urban Homestead hadn’t had a whole section on dealing with abundance, and so I was able to give the milk a second life when we got home. (Note: the milk hadn’t yet spoiled, although it was close to it. Please don’t try this with spoiled milk.)

This recipe is incredibly simple. You’ll need:

1/2 gallon of whole, unpasteurized milk
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1/2 tsp of salt
muslin or finely woven cheesecloth
thermometer

Stir the lemon juice and salt into the milk and heat it to 185 degrees, stirring all the while. You’ll start to notice curds forming pretty quickly; as soon as it reaches 185, take it off the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a colander with the muslin or cheesecloth. Carefully ladle or pour the curds into the cloth, tie up the corners to form a bag, and let it drain for 30 minutes.

That’s it! You’re a cheesemaker!

I only just did this a couple of days ago, so I haven’t actually eaten any of my ricotta yet. Looks legit, though. If you want a savory cheese, mix in olive oil and herbs. For sweeter cheese, use honey and spices. A half gallon of milk doesn’t produce a whole lot of cheese – not enough for standards like lasagna – so I’m going to use mine to make an appetizer from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: crostini with ricotta, olive paste, and marjoram. Then I’ll sip Chianti and talk about the latest New Yorker article while I eat it! How divine!

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7 Responses

  1. I’ve made bread loads of times, and I always use spelt flour and follow the recipe on the back of the packet. (Spelt might not be available in america, though.)

  2. my super-foodie-baker friend is obsessed with “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.” check it ouuuut.

  3. this sounds awesome. i’ve been meaning to get a cheesecloth for ages, because i want to make paneer. but somehow it never happens. where does one get a cheesecloth, anyway?

  4. Re: cheese clothe

    They sell them at my regular (non-fancy) grocery store. Probably kitchen stores too.

    I love the serendipity in this cheese! It reminds me of a time in the Peace Corps (read: no refrigeration) when I had bought a liter of milk from my neighbor in the morning, didn’t use it as I had intended for a cake, and found that I had yoghurt(!!!) when I went to make a cream sauce with it that evening. This in a country that had no real yoghurt or tradition of making yoghurt outside of a few Mennonite agricultural colonies. It was the best cream sauce I’ve ever eaten, tangy and flavorful, and I couldn’t have planned it if I’d tried.

  5. I have no idea why I just spelled cheesecloth like that. Cheesecloth.

  6. They sell cheesecloth at Ace Hardware, for that matter.

  7. Ace also sells canning jars.

    What I’ve also used for all manner of cheesecloth-y type kitchen needs is cloth diapers. Not the pre-folded kind, which are very thick and a smaller total dimension, but the flat kind (Gerber Birdseye Flat Cloth Diapers), which are very large and thin. Now, I happen to have these lying around because I bought and then misplaced and never used a 12-pack of them when I had my son, but if that’s something that’s more convenient for you to buy (on-line or baby places), you can do that.

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