The world is falling apart, so make your own ricotta cheese tonight

Issue 209: May the coagulating proteins in homemade ricotta be a metaphor for people joining forces to demand that America gets its shit together, I guess. Amen. This was a stretch.

Hello! Welcome to Nosh Box, a food newsletter. On Mondays, I send a reading guide of food system ideas and cheese recommendations, and on Thursdays, I dig deeper with an original essay or conversation or recipe you can only find here.

Check out Monday’s dispatch: Why heat disparities will be the defining human rights issue of the coming years

I think by now we all know tonight is the third (second?) presidential debate, and I think by now we all know how it’s going to go. While it is non-negotiable that you MUST VOTE (!!!!), it’s OK if you don’t exactly want to watch two people argue about whether Americans should have the right to not die of a deadly disease pandemic or to express their gender freely or not to be shot by police or to be able to afford food or… well, you get the point.

I’m not saying you should sheet-cake it, but whether or not you’re watching, here’s another project you can do as you reflect on the precarious state of our democracy amid right-wing attempts to suppress the vote: make cheese. For Nosh Box today, here’s my recipe for goat’s milk ricotta salata, or a lightly salted and pressed soft cheese.

What exactly is ricotta? I’m glad you asked! It’s a whey cheese, which means it’s made from the liquid whey that’s left over from the production of curd-based cheeses. Other whey cheeses include Balkan urdă and Norwegian brunost, although ricotta is certainly the most well-known of the category. Once the protein casein has left the party to go coagulate into the cheddars and goudas and gruyeres of the world (thanks to rennet, a set of enzymes that helps casein coagulate more effectively), you can encourage the remaining proteins to coagulate further by simply acidulating and heating them. 

You’ll need:

  • 1 quart goat’s milk (pasteurized is fine, but it cannot be UHT pasteurized (ultra-high temp) because it won’t curdle as well, so the purple cartons of Meyenberg won’t cut it for this. UHT goat milk is great for caramel, though! And by all means, use cow’s milk (whole milk, please) if you’re not a goat’s milk fan. The recipe stays the exact same!)

  • ¼ cup lemon juice or distilled white vinegar (citric acid should also do the trick, although I’ve never personally tried it. My go-to is a combo of 2 tbsp. lemon juice and 2 tbsp. vinegar, so it has brightness without tasting explicitly lemony)

  • ½ tsp kosher salt + some extra (optional)

  • Any herbs you’d like to mix in (dill, tarragon, rosemary, or even some freshly ground black pepper would all be delicious!)

  • A saucepan

  • A thermometer

  • A colander or strainer

  • A bowl

  • Cheese cloth

  • A ricotta mold or plastic pint-size deli container you can destroy

  • A heavy object

Let’s begin!

  • Heat the milk to 185ºF over medium heat, stirring frequently so the bottom doesn’t burn. The goal here is to get it hot enough to help denature the proteins without scalding it or giving it a bitter taste.

  • Take it off the heat, pour in the lemon juice/vinegar, give it one good stir, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Don’t touch it! Give the curd time to separate, as disturbing it at this point might make the texture a little mealy. Yes, the resulting liquid will be a gross color. I know.

  • Put two layers of cheesecloth into a colander or strainer set over a bowl. Pour the curd + liquid through the cloth and strainer. You can gently stir to help it drain. 

  • Add ½ tsp salt and any herbs you’d like to include. Let it keep draining for at least a half hour or so, and then give the cheesecloth ball a good squeeze to help get extra liquid out.

Hey! You just made ricotta. You can eat it now if you want! Otherwise, if you want to make more of a firm table cheese, keep going:

  • If you have a ricotta mold, skip this step. If, like me, you don’t, take your plastic container and poke some drainage holes in it. A screwdriver or an awl or scissors would be helpful for this. 

  • Great! Now line your ricotta receptacle with two fresh layers of cheesecloth and scrape the cheese into it. Place the container into a bowl, fold down the corners of the cheesecloth over the surface of the cheese, and place the heavy object atop it.

  • Put it in the fridge overnight. Tomorrow morning (or 12ish hours later), open the cheesecloth bundle, carefully flip the ricotta wheel, and lightly salt the outside of it. 

  • Replace it in the cheesecloth-lined container and stick it back in the fridge for another 12ish hours. 

  • Choose your own adventure:

    • You choose to eat the cheese at this stage. Congrats! It’s dinnertime tomorrow and you have fresh, homemade goat’s milk ricotta!

    • Or, you choose to keep flipping it and salting it every 12 hours for about 3 days until it holds its shape, and then continue to let it age in the fridge (wrapped in cheesecloth but not in the container anymore) for up to 2 months, if you want something you can grate. Nice!

Let me know how your ricotta turns out! I’m going to be making this recipe tonight and posting updates on my Instagram story, so tag me in your own cheesemaking adventures!