Home-made Ricotta

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I have so much glorious rich and creamy milk in the house, thanks to the milk delivery that came a few days ago (ok, I excitedly over ordered but even I couldn’t make a lad schlep from Suffolk to south-west London for a pint of milk) that I am attempting a home-made ricotta before it turns.

(This unpasteurised, lush milk is just the thing for a simple cheese recipe, don’t bother if all you’ve got in stock is supermarket standard or, heaven forbid UHT).

Actually, whether it IS ricotta or just curds is a point under discussion. I am following the instructions given by Patricia Michelson in her first book, The Cheese Room and Patricia calls the recipe ricotta, which is fine by me, as she is the high priestess of cheese after all.

However boasting of my success last time I made this I was firmly put in my place by someone who knows his stuff and told this isn’t ricotta but plain old curds, ricotta being the ‘re-cooked’ cheese made from the leftover bits in the whey after the curds have been removed. My cheesemaking pride was somewhat deflated.

Luckily Patricia herself has cleared it up explaining that this recipe is based on heating up milk and then bringing it up to just before boiling which is in effect like using the residue of curds after cheesemaking which would still be warm then re-heated (ri-cotta) to form the small pea-sized curds. So although this recipe is ricotta-like, if you lessen the heating you can make it more curd-like. All clear?

Really, it doesn’t matter what you call this cheese; judge it not by its name but by its taste and this one tastes delicious. Subtly creamy, a sort of softly solid version of full fat milk this is the kind of thing weaning babies probably dream about (and is a perfect early food for gummy little mouths incidentally). And it’s incredibly easy to make. Name-wise, I’m going with ricotta, if only so that I can boast that I have made cheese at home.

You can add a little sea salt to this cheese after making, or even some finely chopped herbs but to me the flavour is so sweet and delicate that I don’t want to spoil it and I’d rather eat it as a breakfast treat on sourdough toast, drizzled with dark chestnut honey or as an accompaniment to a simple fruit compote such as rhubarb compote.

Home-made Ricotta (thanks to Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie ). Makes 450g

3 litres organic whole milk (unpasteurised if you can get it)

170ml organic double cream (ditto above)

80 ml fresh lemon juice

optional sea salt

You need to be on hand in the kitchen keeping an eye on the cheese as it cooks but not actively doing much. Heating slowly is essential for a soft curd to develop.

Stir together all the ingredients except salt in a non-reactive heavy saucepan. Set on a diffuser over a low heat. Cook for 40 minutes or until a liquid thermometer reads 170°F. Keep the heat medium low. To ensure the curd stays large don’t stir more than 3-4 times.

As the milk comes close to 170°F the curds will become larger, about the size of an uncooked lentil.

Turn the heat up to medium when it reaches 170°F. Do not stir. Take 6-8 minutes to bring the mixture to 205°F at the centre of the pot. The liquid whey will be almost clear.

By the time the cheese comes to 205°F the curd should mound on a spatula like a soft white custard. The liquid will be on the verge of boiling, the surface beginning to erupt into little mounds. Turn off the heat and let sit for ten minutes.

Line a colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth muslin and turn the mixture into it. Let drain 15 minutes or until the ricotta is thick. Add salt if you are using it and store in the fridge.

Don’t waste the whey, feed it to your pig (what? You don’t keep one?) or use in baking or as a digestive tonic, very good for you apparently.

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