Homemade Ricotta

Cheese is one of the most consumed milk products. The iron and calcium content of the food is ideal for bone development. Cheese is essentially the preservation of milk. Its development is traced back to the nomadic herdsmen of the Middle East who stored their supply of milk on vessels that are made from the stomach of goats and sheep. Because of the lactic acid contained in the linings of the containers, wild bacteria mixes with milk, causing it to ferment and coagulate. The commonly used milk in making cheeses is milk from cows, goats, sheep, or buffalo.

Cheese Making in Ancient Rome

Romans were passionate cheese makers and eaters. Many Roman homes had a special kitchen set aside for cheese making called a caseale, where cheeses also were stored and aged. A favorite Roman cheese was smoked over applewood chips, echoing a popular modern favorite, smoked provolone. Pecorino Romano, a sharp sheep’s milk cheese, may have originated in Roman times.

Ancient egyptian production of cheese

Making Cheese in Ancient Egypt

Making your own cheese at home ensures that you have control over the ingredients that go into your cheese. For instance, you won’t have to revert to using extras like additives and preservatives used in commercial cheese. Not to mention the ‘unmentioned’ and unlisted hormones, pesticides and antibiotics that can make their way into our food. Making cheese at home also ensures that you can exercise some degree of quality control over your finished product. Of course, despite following a recipe, in reality, it may take a few tries to get your homemade cheese perfect. 

One of the easiest cheeses made with rennet to attempt at home is mozzarella and a great rennetless cheese alternative for beginners would be ricotta.
Ricki Carroll, long considered the “grandmother of American cheesemaking” at home, has many options in her book, Home Cheese Making, which details 75 cheeses and their recipes. Many of our country’s best cheese makers owe their start to this book.
Before you start, some key points to remember:

  • Always use the best quality whole milk you can find. Do not use use ultra pasteurized milk.
  • If you can, use homogenized milk. You’ll have a smoother curd using homogenized.
  • All utensils and cookware should be as clean as can be!
  • Make sure all of this cookware is either stainless steel, glass, or enamel.

Why Make Your Own Cheese?

1. It’s a rare skill.  Making your own cheese is the culinary equivalent of building log cabins.  There just aren’t that many people who know how to do it anymore. Homemade cheese will always be a hit at a party.

2. Homemade cheese contains no artificial ingredients.  Almost every commercial yellow or red cheese contains a food coloring called annatto.  Although annatto is “natural” (it’s derived from a South American tree) it has been linked to allergic reactions.

3. It’s easy!  There are a few basic steps to cheese making, and they are the same no matter what kind of cheese you want to create.  Once you have mastered those steps, you can make anything, even brie.

4. Homemade cheese connects you to your farmer, the cows, and the land. As you begin to make cheese, you will naturally seek out the best milk for your product.  You will ask questions, talking to farmers and other cheese makers.  

5. It’s inexpensive.  Unlike other hobbies, you don’t need a lot of fancy supplies to make cheese.  A large pot, a kitchen thermometer, a couple pieces of cheesecloth and a few cultures will get you started onto the path of cheese making.

6. Children love it.  Kids love to eat cheese.  If you have children, cheese making is a great kitchen activity.  They can participate and learn along the way.

7. It’s delicious!  No matter what kind of cheese you make, your homemade cheese will be edible.  Some of the most fabulous, rare cheeses were discovered by accident.  

Benefits to Using Pasteurized Milk

It’s widely available.

Pasteurized milk can be found at any grocery store.   

Don’t use Ultra High Temperature pasteurized milk (a.k.a UHT, ultra-pasteurized). Your curd will not set.

It’s inexpensive.

In most states, organic milk is $5 or less per gallon.

It’s a blank slate, bacterially speaking.

Milk that has been pasteurized contains no bacteria, beneficial or pathogenic.

This means that whatever culture you add has no competition and can propagate freely. This can lead to a more consistently flavored cheese.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

For about 1-1/2 pounds of cheese:

Pour 3 quarts, plus 3 cups whole milk into a stainless steel pot with 1 cup heavy cream (not ultra pasteurized). If possible make them both organic.

Line a large sieve with cheesecloth or a thin towel and set it over a medium bowl.

Bring the milk and cream to a very gentle simmer, stir in 2 teaspoons salt and 1/3 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed).

Simmer 1 or 2 minutes or until you have cloud-like clumps floating in almost clear liquid. Don’t let them cook until they are hard.

Scoop them up and into the sieve. Gently press out excess moisture so the cheese isn’t watery. Put into a storage container and chill.

Mascarpone Cheese

Ingredients:

1 pint heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon tartaric acid (cream of tartar)
1/4 teaspoon powdered sugar

Directions

Fill the bottom of a double boiler with enough water to touch the top pan, but the top should fit neatly and not “float.” Bring to a simmer.
Pour the cream into the top of a double boiler and place over simmering water.

Add the sugar and whisk constantly.
When the cream is warm add the tartaric acid. Whisk over the heat until the cream reaches a temperature of 180 degrees.


Remove from heat and allow to cool, whisking occasionally.

Pour the mixture into a bowl through a thick cheesecloth, or line a fine metal strainer with a coffee filter. Once it is cooled completely, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate in the sieve overnight or up to 24 hours and transfer to a sealable storage container.

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

If you have an hour of time and an adventurous spirit, you can easily make your own mozzarella cheese. Mozzarella cheese is one of the easiest cheeses to make and since it can be used in a variety of dishes, sandwiches, pizzas, pasta, etc., it will disappear quickly.
One of the best aspects of making mozzarella cheese is its simplicity of ingredients and equipment.  All you will need is a pot large enough to hold a gallon of milk, a slotted spoon, some clean rubber gloves, and a kitchen thermometer.  A candy thermometer is preferable to other types, as you’ll want a large enough readout in the 100 to 110 degree range.   You’ll want to hold the temperature of your mixture (once the citric acid and rennet have been added) so the curds can set, so a thermometer that’s easy to read in this range is optimal.

Fresh, Home Made Mozzarella Cheese

The only two ingredients you’ll need for your cheese that you may not be able to find in your local supermarket are rennet and citric acid, both of which you can purchase cheaply online.  If you’re lucky enough to have an extensive local grocery store or cheesemaking shop in your town, you might be able to find them locally.
Besides rennet and citric acid, the only other ingredient that you’ll need is whole milk. You’ll need to read the label carefully and make sure that the milk is not labeled “ultra pasteurized”.  Ultra pasteurized milk has been heated to a high temperature that kills the bacteria and cultures needed to make cheese.  

  • Over medium low heat, bring one gallon of whole milk up to 55 degrees and add 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid (dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water), stir in thoroughly but gently.
  • When the mixture gets to 88 degrees add 1/4 tsp of liquid rennet (dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water), stir in gently for about 30 seconds.
  • Over medium heat, bring up to 105 degrees and keep it there for five minutes or until curds begin to form and separate from the side of the pot.  The whey should be almost clear, if milky white, allow to heat longer.
With a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds.  Put on some rubber (or surgical) gloves and gently squeeze out as much whey as you can with your hands forming balls of cheese.

  • Place the cheese balls in the microwave (this is the faster method) for 30 seconds and then knead it, just like you would bread, squeezing out whey as you go.  Microwave again for 15 – 20 seconds and pour more whey off.  As you are gently squeezing the whey out,  work it into a ball.  Repeat this step several times, until the cheese has a slightly glossy sheen to it and can be pulled like taffy.  Add salt (about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons Kosher salt depending on taste) after the second kneading.

Once you’ve tasted the cheese you can make in your own kitchen, you may be hooked.  Once you’ve made your own cheese, you’re part of an ancient tradition of turning milk into cheese, and you’re part of a select group of people who’ve made homemade cheese.


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