For professional cheesemakers, pasture and soil, seasonality, animal breed and herds all combine to produce very different milk, creating a different canvas on which to make cheese. With all these variables, making cheese can be unpredictable, which is what also makes it exciting. However, at an industrial level, milk is sourced from an array of dairies, thus eliminating the differences and producing more generic cheeses.
The next level up is farmhouse cheese, a style made using the milk from a particular farm, resulting in cheese with more individuality, much like wine. Artisan cheese is also handmade using local milk, and is usually made on a small scale, though it, too, can be made on a grand one – think Parmigiano Reggiano (authentic parmesan) and Roquefort.
The hobby cheesemaker, however, has to draw on more generic supermarket milk. For this reason, making cultured dairy products, such as butter, buttermilk and yoghurt, at home is especially rewarding, as the culturing (fermentation) process adds another layer of flavour.
Cheesemaking relies on precision, particularly for gauging temperatures, so a digital thermometer is a great investment for more complex cheese recipes. It’s easier to read than a regular cooking thermometer.
Cleanliness is one of the most important aspects of cheesemaking to guarantee the best shelf life for what you’ve made and for food safety reasons. First, ensure that the kitchen area is spotlessly clean. Do this by washing it down with hot soapy water, then wiping with white vinegar. Sterilise all utensils by boiling them for 15 minutes before use, then allow them to air−dry. Any items that can’t be boiled can be sprayed with white vinegar, which will kill any wild mould spores that potentially could contaminate the cheese.
To make cheese, the proteins in the milk are coagulated with rennet, an animal−derived product (there are vegetarian versions as well) available from cheesemaking suppliers, specialist foods shops and online. An acid such as vinegar or lemon juice may also be used to make a simple cheese with loose curds, such as ricotta.
Cheese is a concentrated food requiring a high volume of milk. Firm, dry cheese styles, such as cheddar, can lose as much as a tenth of their initial volume. The loss in liquid happens when the curds are separated from the whey, and again when the cheese is drained. Some cheese recipes utilise the whey again, but for those that don’t, you can refrigerate the nutritious whey for up to 3 days. Use it in the lactic fermentation of pickles, or as soaking liquid for dried legumes. You can also drink it as it is, use it for bircher muesli, or add it to soups or smoothies.
All cheese begins with milk and employs a process of fermentation that is, in essence, simple enough to master. This means you can produce fresh cheese and cultured dairy products at home, as well as slightly more complex ones with relative ease. Why not give it a try!
PREP + COOK TIME 30 MINUTES (+COOLING & DRAINING TIME) MAKES 700G
EQUIPMENT Cooking thermometer 25cm piece muslin
CREAMY RICOTTA 1.5 litres (6 cups) full−cream milk 2 cups (500ml) homemade or store−bought cultured buttermilk 2 cups (500ml) pouring cream
1 Combine milk, buttermilk and cream in a large saucepan. Heat over medium heat, without stirring, until it reaches 88°C on a cooking thermometer. Do not allow to boil.
2 Remove pan from heat and cover with a lid. Stand at room temperature for 5 hours or until cool.
3 Place a large sieve over a large bowl and line with muslin. Using a sterilised slotted spoon, lift curds into sieve. (It is okay to include some liquid with the curds as you lift them, as the excess will drain away.)
4 Refrigerate for 3 hours or until drained. (You may need to remove the whey if the bowl gets too full. Store in a sterilised airtight container in the fridge for another use.) Transfer ricotta to a sterilised airtight container and refrigerate. Keeps for up to 2 weeks.
Test Kitchen Notes :This recipe produces a rich, creamy style of ricotta that is suitable for desserts
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Issue 65 2020