I hadn't made cheese in a while, so earlier in the week I made a small batch (half a gallon of milk) batch of whole cow's milk ricotta, and next I made a small (also half gallon) batch of goat's milk ricotta. Never made that before. All I'd made, goat's-milk-wise, was a couple of batches of chèvre , which was, so far, the single batch that made me reeeeeally feel like I was making something special. So I decided to try the ricotta, just to see how it compared, flavor-wise, with the cow's milk, and because it would be another cheese I could check off on my list of Cheeses To Make. It's a long list.
Anyway, before I launch into the process, which is incredibly simple, by the way, I have to say that I can't wait until spring, when I can reconnect with my goat's milk source. Actually, this year I might have several sources available, which would be VERY cool. But right now, I had to pay retail price, and the stuff was from Vermont, which is closer than, say, Switzerland, but still not the same as very local and very fresh. But I digress. The even bigger reason I am looking forward to buying direct is the price. Goat's milk is EXPENSIVE stuff, folks, compared to cow's. I paid over seven dollars for a half gallon of goat's milk. I was going to buy a gallon, but I just couldn't justify it. Believe me, I tried.
So I made a small batch. I used the recipe in my current Cheese Bible, Ricki Carroll's book Home Cheese Making, which is on page 187, for those of you who have a copy and care to look. It's a painful book to own…so many cheeses, so few caves in which to age them.
Anyway, all I'd need for my half batch of ricotta were four simple ingredients:
Half a gallon of goat's milk.
Now, the first thing you do is pour the milk into your super-clean pot and heat it to 195 degrees, F. Don't boil it. I stirred it periodically so it wouldn't scald at the bottom of the pot.
Then, when it reaches 195, take it off the heat and slowly, a little at a time, add the vinegar. You're looking for, as Ricki writes, "the clear separation of the whey. If the whey is still milky when you have added all the vinegar, increase the heat to 205 degrees F. (Adding too much vinegar will impart an acidic, or sour, taste to your cheese.)" We certainly don't want that! At least, I don't.
And guess what. My whey was still milky after I'd incorporated all the vinegar, so I carefully heated the milk to 205 and that made everything better, even though you can't really tell from these pictures. But trust me. The whey was clear.
Next, it was time to strain the curds. I set up a collander, lined with butter muslin (smaller weave than cheesecloth, much better for straining curds) and set that over a large bowl (one of my KA mixer bowls, it looks like).
Then I ladled the curds into the muslin-lined collander. Hee hee hee! It's so much fun. Really. You should try it if you haven't yet.
And there it is. Lovely cheesy curds. Now, here's where I took a slight detour from the recipe as it's written, and I think next time I won't be so presumptuous. Ricki says to let it strain for a minute. Which I did. But I went further and actually squeezed more liquid from the curds. And my resulting ricotta was on the dry side. Not ruined, but not as creamy as it should have been, I think. So, mental note to self: knock it off.
Melted butter and baking soda. Now, I was guessing the butter would smooth out the ricotta a bit and add a little extra flavor dimension, but I wasn't sure what the baking soda was for. As far as I knew, there were no bad smells issuing from the cheese that would need to be neutralized…and there were no baked-on messes that I needed mild abrasion for…hmmm…so what else could it be for?
The only thing I could come up with, in thinking about the properties of baking soda and how they might apply to this, was that maybe the baking soda helps balance out the acidity of the vinegar used earlier. That's my guess, but I don't KNOW.
It would also add a little saltiness to the cheese, but not as much as regular old salt would. So, again…I don't know.
Anyone out there with more experience care to enlighten me? I'd appreciate it.
But back to our program.
First I mixed in the melted butter.
And that was it. Done. Finished. Ricotta is made.
You can tell by just looking at the picture that it's on the dry side. Not a huge deal – and you could also blend in some cream if you wanted to make it…creamier. But I wasn't sure at that point what I wanted to do with it, so I just left it like that and put it in the fridge.
I did, of course, taste it, and oooh, do I love goat's milk cheeses.
And then, perhaps the next day, I decided to make lasagne.
But that is going to be a different post, so stay tuned. Or, at least, check back again some time.