Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is home-made ricotta worth making?

Last week, I did something most food bloggers have done years ago -- I made my own ricotta. To tell you the truth, it wasn't ricotta I was after. What I really wanted to make was Russian farmer's cheese. But many of my Russian friends who have tried it said it was really hard to get supermarket milk to curdle. It could take as long as a few days at room temperature which sounded a bit disturbing to me since I don't know the difference between good curdled and spoiled curdled. So, I've never tried making my own farmer's cheese. Considering the fact that I love to cook, my preservation skills are non-existant. Anyway, where were we... That's right ricotta.

I saw a recipe for it in Sept/Oct issues of Cook's and it looked like a fun thing to try. Since ricotta and farmer's cheese are cousins of sorts, I thought it can't hurt to learn to make whatever Cook's was giving me straightforward instructions for. It turned out well, but I can't say it was a revelation. Sure it was head and shoulders above most store bought ricotta, but not any better than Calabro, which is my favorite store bought brand.

Farmer's cheese is a whole other story. I want to learn to make it not because it's fun in a science project sort of way, but because I am not crazy about the store bought products. The one I see in most stores is Friendship brand. It's ok in fillings, but not great on it's own. Any advice on how to do it? I've seen lots of recipes on-line, but I'd like to understand the science behind it and none of them explain it. Here are some specific questions that I have:
  • The ricotta recipe I used, said to heat milk to 185F and then stir in enough lemon juice to make it curdle. The resulting product doesn't have much tang. This is appropriate for ricotta, but farmer's cheese is supposed to have a good bit of sourness. Does this come from letting it sit for a while and curlde on it's own at room temperature?
  • What's the difference between using lemon juice and buttermilk as souring agents?
  • How do you know if the milk curdled in a good way (like it's ready for cheese making) or in a bad way (like it spoiled)?
In case it's ricotta you are really after, here is the recipe.

Heat 1 gallon whole milk and 1 tsp table salt (or 2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt) to 185F over medium-hight heat. Cook's recommends using a Dutch oven, but I don't see why it wouldn't work in any heavy bottomed pot if you stir occasionally. Remove from heat and slowly stir in 1/3 cup lemon juice.

Allow mixture to stand undisturbed for 5 minutes. If the milk hasn't curdled, stir in more lemon juice 1 Tbsp at a time until the milk curdles (let sit a few minutes after each addition).

Set a collander in a large bowl and line with 2 layers of cheese cloth. Dump the curdled milk in and wait for it to drain. Make sure your bowl is big enough to catch all the liquid or keep an eye on it and dump out the liquid as it accumulates in the bowl.

After an hour of draining, move to the fridge and let it sit overnight. Cook's said not to press or disturb the ricotta, but I found that collecting the edges of the cheese cloth and tying them up didn't hurt.

Now if only I could get my hands on some raw milk. My guess is that would indeed produce a ricotta superior to anything from the store, but the closest place I can get it is Foxboro, and I am not sure I am up for driving that far.


Anonymous said...

I thought there was no difference between spoiled and intended, only thing is you did not intend it when it was spoiled ...
I could be wrong.

Helen said...

there is definitely a difference. otherwise you wouldn't get sick from old milk.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother swears by making russian style farmer's cheese with buttermilk instead of milk. she says it's very easy and I've tasted it enough to attest to its tastiness.

Perhaps I'll call her and ask for a more detailed recipe.

Oh, and Friendship brand farmer's cheese sold locally is now all low-fat (I don't know if the full-fat version still exists), which makes it much less tasty than it used to be. There are some better brands to be had in Russian stores -- we tend to like the one called "White Cheese."

-Lucy (your former neighbor)

Cyn said...

Hi, Helen, I saw a recipe for Russian farmer's cheese at http://www.thedairyshow.com/the_dairy_show/2009/03/special-editionin-the-kitchen-with-anne-mendelson.html

Cyn said...

Also, there are a couple recipes for something that looked interesting to me called Creole cream cheese (recipes also combine milk and buttermilk) at http://www.chow.com/recipes/18750 and at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/homemade-creole-cream-cheese-recipe/index.html although I'm not personally familiar with that type of cheese.

Piroska said...

This is the way my mom does it back in Hungary: she lets the fresh milk (local, full fat) sit at room temperature for a couple of days, and when it looks like gelatin (literally!!) she does what's on that other website, the Dairy Show: VERY gently heats it (no boiling) until those curds start separating. Then puts it in cheesecloth and lets it drip.
I have never seen her using pasteurized milk and she never uses a "souring agent" like lemon or buttermilk. But that doesn't mean it would not work like that!!
Anyway I had a lot of (jello-like) sour milk when I was young: have to tell you it is better than any yogurt!! specially when they keep it cold (after it went sour at room temp. of course)
so I think the secret of a REALLY good farmer's cheese is in the un-pasteurized milk. I think!! Good luck with your experiment!

Tanya said...


I've made home-made farmer's cheese from fresh milk - heated and curdled with lemon or sour cream (whatever seems to work at the time) - for my daughter when she just started eating solids. I now buy a brand of organic milk from Kolona, IA that has the unfortunate tendency of spoiling within if few days in the summer (keeps for nearly a week in the winter). I've made farmer's cheese from the spoiled milk using the same boil & sour method. The cheese typically has a more sour taste at that point. I typically use it for sirniki (I'm betting if you don't know what these are, your grandmother does). I've done this numerous times and no one's been sick. The boiling involved should kill off any pathogens, but I won't guarantee this. Anyway, the sour cream is my mom's method from when she made farmer's cheese for us in Russia. She also recently informed me that the strained liquid left over makes an excellent substitution for milk or buttermilk in blini (crepes).

Anonymous said...

Hi Helen, I would call your cheese a "Paneer". Great for Saag or Muttar Paneer. However I believe Ricotta is a different beast. It is made from the briefly fermented whey remaining from a rennet separated curd. Hence "Ri Cotta" - "Re cooked". I don't think you can make Ricotta from the whey of an acid separated process.

This link is a great resource if you're really keen to make a proper Ricotta.


Keep up the good work and enjoy your Muttar Paneer. Best wishes, Peter.

jo said...

slow and steady on the counter invites bacteria naturally present for slow lactic fermentation.
You might want to try finding non ultra pasteurized milk (look for High Lawn Farm milk at whole Foods and you can SOMETIMES find their buttermilk as well) and then adding some live yogurt (most buttermilk these days is not really buttermilk as you know) this may get you the tang you seek.

Helen said...

Thanks for all your insightful comments guys!

I've read a recipe that makes farmer's cheese out of buttermilk. The only buttermilk I can find in my stores (Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Shaws, etc) has only 1/2% milk fat. After what you guys said, I have some doubts what exactly it is. In Russia, there is a thing called Kefir and I thought the English translation of that is buttermilk. But I am not so sure now. My guess is that if I made farmer's cheese out of pure buttermilk available to me, it would be too sour and too lean.

My guess is the room temperature fermentation is the way to go. I am sure some amount of buttermilk would be great, but I'd still rely on milk as the main ingredient.

By the way, I did make it out of pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) milk. Jo thanks for the tip on High Lawn Farm milk. That's what I used, but I've never seen their buttermilk. Maybe I'll be lucky next time and find it.

Oh yeah -- I am aware that what I've made is not technically ricotta because it has no whey, but it looks, tastes, and behaves like ricotta, so that's what I am calling it.


Mrs. M. said...

I've made my own ricotta, and while it was good, it took a lot of milk to yield a little cheese. Seemed wasteful.

I've been making Russian farmer's cheese for years (recipe on my blog) with milk and buttermilk. I'm not sure about the science behind it--I'd love to know the answers to your questions too--but the recipe works almost every time, so I don't question it too much!

Tanya said...

There's a company called "Lifeway" that makes Kefir - supposedly Russian style as the company's late founder was a Russian emigre who came over in the late 70s. It's a national brand and Whole Foods carries it. Majority of the line is flavored, but I do believe they have unflavored versions, too.

And I agree with Julia: it takes a lot of milk to make a small amount of cheese. That's why I like to do this with spoiled milk that I would have otherwise tossed.

Anonymous said...

Helen, the use of buttermilk is very close to whole milk the main difference being it (buttermilk has had much of the useless whey removed . I make farmers Cheese and I perfer the use of buttermilk to whole milk , even though my neighbor has a dairy farm.
Chef Jay , C.P.C.A, masterchef emeritus,

Cucee Sprouts said...

This is definitely Beyond Salmon. Btw, very catchy blog name!!! I really enjoy making my own ricotta (we call it Tvorog.) I usually make it with a buttermilk/milk mixture by last week I decided to experiment and try other souring agents. I posted my results on a blog, together with my recipe. http://cuceesprouts.com/2011/04/homemade-farmers-cheese/