September’s Forging Fromage challenge was Ricotta Salata, a pressed, salted, and slightly aged cheese made from fresh ricotta. So, in a way, this is a double challenge: make a batch of ricotta, then turn that ricotta into ricotta salata.
I was excited about this challenge. I’d already mastered making ricotta (a very simple cheese to make). This recipe would give me another way to use the ricotta, and more experience on aging cheeses.
Wait. What’s that sound? Is it the sound of the Cheese Deities snickering?
I’m not entirely sure where I went wrong, but my first two tries at making ricotta for this recipe were dismal failures. I tried first with a half gallon of cow’s milk (store bought). I ended up with very few curds and a milky whey. For that batch, I think I got too overconfident and didn’t watch the temperature closely enough.
Fine. A gallon of milk down the drain. What a waste.
Rather than run out to the store to get another half gallon, I figured I’d use what I had on hand: fresh goat milk.
Failure again. This time I think my mistake was too much stirring and checking. Once again, I ended up with very low yield: maybe a 1/4 cup from a half gallon of precious milk. Milk I had earned the hard way. A pint at a time.
I couldn’t even bear to look at that pitiful little pile of ricotta in the cheesecloth.
I seriously began to wonder if I was cut out for this cheesemaking adventure at all. (I won’t go into details here, but it was around this same time that I wasted a gallon of milk on a failed mozzarella making session.)
But I’m determined to get this right, so, a few days later, I bought more milk and tried again.
After pouring the milk in a large pot, I mixed a teaspoon of citric acid with 1/4 cup of cool water, then thoroughly stirred the citric acid mixture into the milk.
Then I calmly and patiently let the milk heat up to 190 degrees, and resisted the temptation to stir the mixture too much.
Patience rewarded: curds and whey separated right around the correct temperature. I thanked the Cheese Deities and then carefully ladled the curds into a butter-muslin lined colander to remove any extra whey.
With the ricotta itself made, I was ready to venture into Ricotta Salata territory.
I measured out 1 cup of the ricotta, and put it in a cheesecloth-lined press, put the press on full pressure (which is, I believe, from 40-50 pounds on this little press) and let it sit for 3-4 hours.
Thinking back on this process, I wish I had pressed for two hours on one side, flipped the cheese over, and pressed for another two on the other side, just to give the cheese more even pressing and texture. Next time.
After it was pressed, we had a nice solid round of cheese. My beautiful assistant helped me rub it with 2 teaspoons of salt, then I wrapped it in a clean piece of butter muslin, put it on a plate, and then into the refrigerator for the cheese’s first two days of aging.
Two days later, I unwrapped the cheese, resalted it with 1 teaspoon of salt, flipped it, rewrapped it, and returned it to the refrigerator.
At this second salting, I noticed a rind had developed, as well as several cracks on the outside edges. The cracks are likely due to the low humidity in the refrigerator.
One way to deal with this is to age the cheese in a plastic container in the refrigerator (with or without a damp cloth in the container, depending on the level of humidity needed). I didn’t try this for this cheese, but it’s something I ought to do if I make it again.
One more salting, two more days of aging, and the cheese was ready to cut and eat.
After all the effort and wasted milk and second-guessing my cheese-making worthiness, I wish I could say I loved this cheese, but I don’t.
The paste is smooth and creamy. It tasted great in slivers in my salad last night, but the overriding flavor is salt. And the short aging time means the cheese never develops a complex flavor. As this post says, it’s the cheese that can’t stand alone. You don’t really want to take a slice of it to nibble while you sip your glass of burgundy. Instead, you want to cube it or sliver it or shave it and add as an ingredient or garnish to whatever else you’re cooking.
Even if I never make this cheese again, Ricotta Salata helped me remember something I’ve been (re)learning in the barn, too: slow, steady patience gains me more than any frenetic effort ever does.
Last night, I optimistically took a full gallon of fresh goat milk out of the refrigerator and made ricotta. It made the most tender, sweet ricotta curds I’ve ever tasted. I took a small bowl, filled it with warm ricotta made just minutes before, sprinkled it with a little salt, and then drizzled it with honey.
I didn’t hear any snickering.
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Wonderful post, beautiful looking cheese. I’m so jealous at you having a cheese press. I pressed my ricotta salata with weights and juice packages… And it was way too wet. Yours looks soooo professional. Too bad you didn’t like it. We didn’t either – it tasted like salted milk – ugh!
This press was pretty inexpensive, and now that I look at it, it would be pretty easy to build your own that’s exactly like it. I wonder why yours stayed so wet? Mine dried out *a lot* in the refrigerator.
Lovely cheese! I agree, it is not a stand alone cheese. I used mine in lasagna. Very tasty!
I use bottled lemon juice as my coagulator (after the milk has come to temp), and if it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.. I add more. Then let separate for a few minutes before draining. I am very low-tech that way, but it works.
Your goat cheese ricotta sounds lovely.
Thank you! I agree re: the low-tech method. My first failure with the goat milk feta was with using the citric acid and mixing it in at the start. For the goat milk ricotta I talked about at the end, I let the milk first get up to temp, then slowly mixed in about 1/4 cup of cider vinegar. It worked perfectly.
And thanks for the lasagna tip! Good idea.
Oh cracked cheeses always, err, excuse the phrase ‘cheese’ me off. I found, like you, that refrigerators are too dry, and the wadded up wet paper towel tends to do the trick.. only somewhat. Once I doused an already well salted ricotta salata with fresh olive oil, rewrapped it in cheese cloth, placed it in the fridge and hoped for the best. It didn’t crack but it developed the most unpleasant, rubbery rind. The salatas I’ve had were uniform in consistancy; very salty, but with a nice crumbly texture, not unlike a feta. I gave up on ricotta salata and resigned myself of late to the fresh, ever consistant version. However, your post has put the wind back in my sails to try the ever elusive, slightly immortalized version of manicotta filling.
Wish me luck 🙂