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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ricotta Cheese

My favorite part of making the Ricotta Gnocchi for the Daring Cooks challenge was finally having a reason to give making my own cheese a go. Let me tell you, it is a breeze, probably the easiest thing ever. Why does making cheese sound so scary? Well, let me start by saying that I completely screwed it up the first round. I should preface this with letting you know that I can't make rice or Macaroni and cheese out of a box either. I think it is that I am just boiling water challenged. So, the first time I made the ricotta I followed the directions from Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making, I had also ordered some powdered citric acid from her company as well. Let me say that I really felt like the directions were a bit sparse. Now that I have been successful at Ricotta Cheese making they seem as clear as day, but with no cheese experience there really was not enough information. I ended up dumping the first batch down the drain as once I got to the curdling point it just didn't seem like there was anything there to strain. Maybe this has something to do with growing up a little too close to Wisconsin, but when it says curds I am picturing something large, well like cheese curds (you know, the cheddar ones that squeek when you eat them). The finished product just seemed like a grainy broth. 
A few days later a friend mentioned seeing a recipe for Ricotta Cheese in a back issue of Gourmet magazine. I liked the idea that this one used actual lemon juice, rather than the powdered citric acid. So I gave it another go and pretty much ended up with the same outcome, except I actually thought it through before dumping the mixture down the drain. I realized that 8 cups of milk only makes 2 cups of cheese, so it probably was going to be a little watery. I ran it through the cheesecloth and let it drain about 4 hours for the gnocchi and voile...beautiful ricotta cheese. Really easy and probably the best ricotta cheese I have ever tasted. Quite honestly I never liked ricotta cheese all that much before, but this is good...
Ricotta Cheese
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

8 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Line quart size colander with several layers of cheesecloth; set in a larger bowl. Bring milk and salt to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in lemon juice. Reduce heat and let simmer, stirring continuously until very small curds (I would call them grains, the size of sesame seeds) form, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour curdled milk into cheesecloth lined colander and let drain one hour (for gnocchi I just transfered the colander to the fridge after an hour with a bowl underneath to keep draining for another three hours). Transfer curds to a bowl. Cover and chill until cold and ready to use. Fresh ricotta only keeps for about two days, use as soon as possible. 

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