I bought Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll a few years ago after reading about her in Animal Vegetable Miracle. The idea of being able to make my own fresh mozzarella, chevre, and maybe even an aged cheddar sounded so delightful and exciting that I had to give it a try. But of course, as life would have it, I've read the book but never made anything to this point.
This morning, my husband Chris and I were talking about what to have for dinner, and he mentioned that he had a craving for lasagna. Well, you don't have to twist my arm to get me to make lasagna. However, when he mentioned it I started thinking back to Ricki's book and how a few months ago I had bought citric acid from my co-op thinking I would make ricotta for lasagna sometime. Given that my day was not all that busy, I decided it was high time I made cheese. After my morning cross-train (as a part of my marathon training), I went to my co-op to pick up my regular groceries, but also left with the only other ingredient I needed for my ricotta: whole milk.
Along with my belief that the best ingredients make the best food, choosing high quality milk makes good cheese. I chose to purchase organic whole milk from Crystal Ball Farms in Osceola, Wisconsin, which is about 30 minutes away from where I live. (I buy their skim milk for daily consumption and it is great.) I recommend splurging in high quality, local, organic milk if possible. It will be worth it!
I dissolved 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid (available at most natural food stores, in the bulk section) in 1/8 cup cool water and then mixed that in with the whole milk in a large stainless steel pot. I heated it at a medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. The time it took for the curd to separate from the whey took a long time - almost one hour. The curd slowly started to form as the milk started to turn a yellowish color; it was amazing to watch these delicate pieces of curd swirl around in the milk as I stirred. I got a bit nervous when the separation began but the whey still looked milky, even though the directions specifically said it should not. Nonetheless, my thermometer said I had heated it enough and the amount of curd seemed to have stop increasing. So I turned the stove off and let the curd sit in the pot, undisturbed, for 10 minutes (10 minutes which I spent praying to the cooking gods that I had not screwed this up). Then I carefully ladled the curds into a colander lined with two layers of cheesecloth, which was placed inside a bowl to catch any extra whey that came along with each scoop. Then I gathered up the sides of the cheesecloth and pinned it to my banana tree which was sitting in the sink, allowing the curd to drain for about 20 minutes.
After letting it drain, I tasted the cheese, albeit nervously. It was a little drier than standard ricotta (which can be modified by adding a little cream, if you like) but it tasted like cheese! I actually danced in my kitchen, I was so excited at this accomplishment; it was as if I had crossed a new culinary threshold. After basking in the glow of my achievement and tasting a few more bites, I mixed it with the egg, spices, and a bit of Parmesan cheese that would be added to my lasagna. As I assembled my lasagna, I realized that I was capable of making or growing everything that went into the dish. To feel that connection to your food is an amazing and satisfying feeling!
Now normally this would be the part where I print the recipe, but because I followed the recipe exactly as the book instructed, I cannot print it here (my other recipes are ones I develop or modify, which makes posting them okay). I hope I am not disappointing my readers!
Instead, I hope I have encouraged you to try cheesemaking in your own kitchen. Ricki's book is amazing and will really help you jump-start your own cheesemaking. You can order her book, cheesemaking supplies, and get more information at her website: www.cheesemaking.com.