Blessed are the Cheesemakers

[Audience members at the back of the crowd are having trouble hearing the Sermon on the Mount.]
“What was that?”
”I don’t know. I was too busy talking to Bignose.”
”I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’ ”
”Ah, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?”
”Well, obviously, it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”

— Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Marc and I are a week into fasting, and doing pretty well. With spotty Internet access (the cable company is doing work in our neighborhood) and a pervasive inward quietness I’m feeling right now, I haven’t posted anything in days. Since we are fasting from salt, everything has to be made from scratch. I’ve been making roasted veggies, loaves of whole wheat and rye bread…and cheese.

Homemade ricotta cheese

Who knew cheese making could be so satisfying? The warm milk gives off this comforting smell of Mom while it’s cooking. That sweet milky smell mother and infant have together that makes you (or at least me) feel all warm and gooshy inside…that smell. With Jennifer, The Baklava Queen‘s inspiration, I started making paneer, fresh Indian cheese and ricotta. I can’t begin to tell you how amazingly simple it is. I haven’t found any local sources of vegetarian rennet, (a coagulant) otherwise I’d make mozzarella or some other interesting cheeses.

In my few forays into cheese making, I’ve found that whole, cream-top (non-homogenized) milk really produces the best flavor and texture. And, I suggest, your dairy products should always be organic and from a reputable, humane source.

Many of the pesticides, hormones and chemicals used in modern factory farming are fat soluble. Meaning that those chemicals get stored in the fats of the cow, (including the milk you drink), and in the fats in your body. So, along with looking out for the well being of the animals, it’s important for our health to be conscious of where our food comes from. If you have to make choices about which things are most important to buy organically, fats (dairy, olive oil, avocados, etc.) are a good place to start. So, on to the ricotta recipe. I’ll do the paneer recipe as soon as I have good photos.

Fresh Ricotta (adapted from this recipe)

(yields about 1 1/2 cups cheese)

Ingredients
1/2 gallon whole milk
2 1/2 cups buttermilk

Special Equipment
Large heavy bottom pot (must be able to allow plenty of room for the 10.5 cups of liquid)
Candy thermometer (or comparable thermometer that includes the range of 170-190°)
Colander set in large bowl or another pot
Cheese cloth (five layers, big enough to drape over edges of the colander)
Slotted spoon

Cook milk and buttermilk in heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Attach the thermometer to the side of the pan so that it’s at least two inches into the milk, but not touching the bottom of the pot. Wait for it to take about 20 minutes for the thermometer to register 170°, stirring occasionally. When the mixture reaches 170°, the curds and whey will start to separate and you should stop stirring. Continue to cook until the temperature reaches 190°. Remove the pot from the heat. It’s okay if the bottom is slightly scorched.

With the slotted spoon, gently spoon the curds into the colander lined with cheesecloth. Let the curds drain and cool for about 5 minutes. Gather the cheesecloth together, tie it and hang the bundle to drain another 15 minutes from the kitchen faucet. Transfer the ricotta curds into a container and sprinkle with a little salt (or not). It will easily store in the fridge for 4 days, possibly up to a week. The (8 or 9 cups of) reserved whey has many uses. It can be the base of a soup or curry, or you can do what I’ve done several times now, use it in place of water in your favorite fresh bread dough recipe. It adds flavor and nutrition.

9 thoughts on “Blessed are the Cheesemakers”

  1. bri, we use mrs. dash lemon pepper seasoning a lot in lieu of salt. they have a whole line of sodium-free seasonings. try it.

  2. Rainbow Grocery in SF has vegetarian rennet. We’re coming up to Napa on Sunday afternoon — I know that’s not super-close to where you are, but it’s closer than SF — and I’d happily bring you some. I’d offer to drive it all the way to you, but we’re carpooling with friends. But we could meet up somewhere in Napa or maybe Petaluma? I just am heartsick thinking of you cheeseless when you’re already deprived! 🙂

    http://www.rainbow.coop/blogs/cheese/?p=35

    drop me an email if you’re interested…

  3. Thanks for the paneer link! I’ve been curious about it since Nigella talked about it. But I’ve only known of its existence for 3 months now, heh 🙂

    We have at least one source for rennet here, and it’s in a university (I’m not sure if it’s in the foodtech laboratory, microbiology laboratory, or the agriculture laboratory) that’s a 2-3 hours drive away. Uhhh… (Maybe someday I’ll make mozza. One of my friends’ mother is a teacher there..) I think there are some mail-order sites you can look into about cheese making 🙂

  4. Bee – Thanks for the heads up. I think I do need to look into more seasoning options. I’m already tired of my current choices.

    Anita – Yay! What a great offer! Plus, even more blog fodder 😉

    Manggy – So, you don’t have much Indian food? I would think there would be Indian ex-pats in the big cities that would have all kinds of curry houses. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to it enough to mail order rennet, but if Anita can hook me up, that would be awesome. You should totally get your hands on some and experiment. Who knows, maybe you’ll become an expert cheesemaker?! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. thank you bri for showing us the world of cheesemaking and (as always) reminding us that making food does not have to be difficult, intimidating or complicated.

    and good for you with your fasting – you guys are amazing!

  6. Hey Bri, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the cheesemaking and that it’s making your fast go more smoothly. I haven’t tried making the cheese with buttermilk, but it looks like an even more creamy result than what I get with yogurt. YUM.

  7. Gigi – Great to see you! You are very welcome. I’m developing quite an appreciation for what goes into making good cheese. Thanks for your comment!

    Jen – The buttermilk was an interesting addition to the ricotta. I did make some paneer with yogurt rather than lemon juice and that was good too. Thanks for the inspiration, as always!

  8. Tammy – Great! I think the kidlywinks would get a big kick out of making their own cheese. I’m going to post a paneer recipe soon.

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