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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