[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)
1/2 gallon whole milk
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
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)
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.