Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Homemade goatmilk ricotta

The first time I made ricotta was about a year and a half ago. I began buying goat cheese from Lake Erie Creamery and asked about getting some whey to make ricotta. I was told that it can't be made from an acid precipitated whey because there are no solids left after the process of making chevre. Even though everything I read said the same thing, I decided to try anyhow. After heating four gallons of the whey I did get about a pound of very tangy cheese. While it was certainly not real ricotta it was usable and I made a zucchini casserole that took into account it's tart, lactic quality. Why mention this? Well, if you have access to whey from an acid precipitated goat cheese, don't write off the possibility of making a ricotta-type cheese from it. If you're clever, you will be able to come up with a recipe that will benefit from a tangy soft cheese.

Since then, Lake Erie Creamery have begun making several other cheeses including a French feta and the award-winning Blomma. I requested whey from a rennet-precipitated cheese and received nine gallons from a Caerphilly they are currently working on.

I did a search on making homemade ricotta and the first problem that I had with the results was that the over-whelming majority begin with or include milk. This ignores the spirit behind ricotta which is to take advantage of a by-product, whey. So for starters, no milk. The second variable was whether or not it would require the addition of an acid to increase yield or coagulate at all. After all, ricotta is supposed to be an heat AND acid precipitated cheese. I thought it would be smart to split the whey and try it both ways.

The first batch was the simple version. All We did was heat 4 1/2 gallons of the whey to 200 degrees and large chunks of curd began to form immediately. We scooped the clumps into a strainer lined with cheesecloth and then gently spooned the rest of the liquid through. After a half hour or 45 min. we had a pound and a half of delicious cheese. Definitely easy enough to make homemade ricotta on a regular basis.

The second batch would have an acid added. There were several quantities and types of acid suggested including one that suggested as much as 1/4 cup for two gallons of whey. That sounded like an awful lot of acid so I decided on a modest two tablespoons of lemon juice expecting that if the flavor came through (which it did), it would be more pleasant than vinegar. We heated the 4 1/2 gallons of whey to 200 degrees and added the lemon juice. We saw nothing. None of the big clumps that so easily formed without the acid. I even called Mariann at the creamery to make sure the whey in each bucket was exactly the same. She confirmed that it was. Since there was some very fine particles in the pot we decided to strain it anyhow. The fine particles nearly completely clogged the cheesecloth but it continued draining very slowly. After several hours (during which we reheated the spent whey from batch one and added 1/4 cup of vinegar to see if we could squeeze any more curd from it. Nope.), we finally got the last of the liquid in the strainer but it would take all night until it drained to approximately the same moisture level as the first batch.

The results were surprising. Two distinctly different cheeses. The first one had a texture similar to standard supermarket stuff but with a far superior flavor along with just a hint of "goatiness". The second batch, much to our surprise, did have a slightly better yield, about 1 5/8 lb and an amazing soft, fine cream cheese like texture with a hint of lemon. Both were awesome in their own way.

Batch one became part of a cannelloni dish. I seasoned the cheese modestly with salt, white pepper, a dash of nutmeg and a little mixed Italian seasoning. I rolled the mixture in some squares of fresh pasta that I made and fit them into a baking dish. I topped them with a simple sun-dried tomato sauce I made by sauteing in olive oil, garlic, onion and minced sun-dried tomatoes (or more correctly "oven-dried tomatoes" that I dried last fall and packed with olive oil in mason jars) and adding some heavy cream. The wife and I must have sound ridiculous as we moaned our way through this meal. It was awesome.

Batch two was seasoned with some sugar, vanilla and a tiny pinch of salt and rolled into some homemade crepes and topped with some black raspberry jam that we heated until it melted into a sauce. These we ate for breakfast and, needless to say, they were great.

As good as batch two was, it was no fun to strain. I will do it again, primarily to see if I get similar results with a different batch of whey (the real variable) but I can't see doing it regularly unless I come up with a more efficient straining process. On the other hand, batch one was so good and so easy that I expect this to be how I get all of the ricotta I use in the future. It was a simple and low impact process. It took maybe an hour and a half and and half of that was spent bringing it up to temp. The half hour or 45 min. strain and drain was well worth the pound and a half of excellent (and free) cheese. If you have access to whey I highly recommend that you intercept some before it all goes to feed these hogs.

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