This week I discovered something that has changed my kitchen forever. I made my own ricotta cheese. It was a suggestion from one of the people at eGullet. We were discussing the recipe for calzone from the book and we were lamenting the state of ricotta cheese that is available in the super markets. No sooner had we complained than a recipe for homemade ricotta cheese appeared on the screen. Not one, but several.
Some of the recipes call for whole milk, some for cream and milk, but the one that caught my eye uses goat milk and heavy cream. You can find goat milk in co-ops and many regular grocery stores. I found it at Trader Joe’s. It has a wonderful flavor and is spectacular in cheese.
The poached cherries were my husband’s doing. We had a box of cherries that I just couldn’t walk by at Costco, but I should have, given that it is February in Minnesota. They were rather tasteless and not as firm and juicy as they looked behind plastic. Graham pitted them and threw them in a pot with a bottle of inexpensive red wine (the $2 variety), a small amount of sugar, a vanilla bean, the zest of an orange and a dozen peppercorns. Once they simmered for about an hour and the wine reduced with the fruit to make a syrup, it was utterly delicious.
I made the ricotta and it was still warm from hanging at room temperature for most of the afternoon. A dollop of the creamy fresh cheese on top of the chilled wine infused cherries, a drizzle of honey and that was all it needed. Perfect!
Makes about 1 cup
Homemade Ricotta Cheese:
1 quart goat milk
1 pint heavy cream or 1/2 & 1/2
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 pound pitted cherries
1 bottle red wine (anything you have laying around the house! The one he used was sweet so it didn’t require too much sugar. If you use a dry wine then you may want to increase the sweetness?)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
zest of one small orange, left in large pieces so it can be removed. We used a potato peeler to remove the zest in large sheets.
strainer lined with rinsed cheese cloth
wooden spoon or dowel to hang cheese
rubber band or string
Put all of the ingredients for the homemade ricotta cheese in a medium sauce pot with a candy thermometer attached to the side. Gently stir the mixture over medium low heat until it reaches 175 degrees. It is very important that the mixture never goes about this temperature. I had to turn my stove off a couple of times when it seemed as though the milk might go above 175 degrees.
Once your milk hits 175 degrees it will start to curdle and you want to scoop up the large curds off the top. It may take several minutes for all of the milk to do this. Just keep the temperature as constant as possible and keep scooping the curds off the top.
Scoop the curds out into the cheesecloth that is laid over a strainer with a deep bowl under it. I used the bowl to my stand mixer. The trick is to have enough room under the strainer so the cheese is not sitting in the liquid as it drains.
The cheese will be very soft and runny, until all the liquid drains out.
Use a large spoon or rubber spatula to push the ricotta away from the bottom of cheesecloth so that it can drain more easily.
Once the ricotta is as dry as cottage cheese…
use a rubber band or string to tie it into a bundle. Put a wooden spoon or dowel through the top.
Find a large pitcher or vase to hang the bundle of cheese in so that it can finish draining. It takes about 3 hours to have a nice soft cheese. The longer you let it hang the firmer the ricotta will be. You can hang it in the refrigerator overnight for a firmer consistency.
You can feel the cheese in the bundle to see if it is set up enough for your needs. I wanted mine to be set but still very soft, so I opened it up after only 3 hours.
It was soft and still warm. Yum! The texture is completely smooth.
I scooped some out put it over the cherries and with nothing but a drizzle of honey this made a sublime dessert!
To make the cherries:
Put all the ingredients in a non reactive sauce pan and simmer very gently for an hour or until the liquid is the consistency of thick maple syrup.