I can’t believe I’ve never made my own cheese!
As a little background to how this came about, I’m part of a research team for one of my professors. For the last few weeks, we’ve been collecting qualitative data (interviewing staff and kids) for a program called Cooking Sprouts, a vegetable gardening and cooking program in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. As research assistants, a few of us visit the site and collect information in order to evaluate the impact the program is having on the kids and parents, and even on staff. After about 2 1/2 hours of work, we’re always treated to the fruits of the participants’ labor- delicious garden-picked meals made by kids and staff, which is shared with parents picking up their kids, and anyone else lucky enough to be around. Now I have always thought of myself as an innovative person in the kitchen, but I am beyond inspired by these 10 year olds. Every time I’ve been there, they make something new that I run home to try: grilled pizza, Thai melon salad, fall/summer vegetable soup with apples, and most recently, fresh ricotta cheese. So last Saturday, the cooking leaders and kids made two incredible chili dishes from the vegetables they’d harvested, topped with fresh homemade ricotta and grilled bread. I have no words for how delicious it was. And they made it outdoors, in about 10 minutes, with a burner and large pot. After talking to the founder of Cooking Sprouts about just how easy it was to make, I went home determined to make ricotta my next project.
So for all the cheese purists out there, no it’s not technically ricotta, because you’re not using the whey- it’s technically more like paneer or queso fresco. And it was even easier indoors… so you can use a stove, and heat the milk, stirring constantly to try not to burn it, but a little (cheating?) trick is to use the microwave (according to an article in Serious Eats).
What I did was combine about 3 cups of good quality whole milk and about 1 cup of buttermilk, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons of white vinegar in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until the milk gets to 165 F degrees (or if you can’t find your thermometer, until it bubbles slightly and curdles)- about 3-5 minutes, stopping often to check. Let it sit to form curdles and then drain the liquid (whey) out through a cheesecloth (about 4 layers thick) and colander for 5-10 minutes. Eat warm on delicious bread (mine was on a hearty wheat walnut raisin bread from Whole Foods- pumpernickel is also great for this), drizzled with good olive oil and a little sea salt and cracked pepper. And you can refrigerate the leftovers (leftovers?! not possible.) for up to 5 days and it will become firmer, like a queso fresco.