Sunday, January 27, 2013

Home-made Ricotta Cheese
and a little story about my mum's upbringing


My mum grew up in a fairly non-traditional environment. Her dad was a cotton merchant and was required to be on location for work, hence the family moved a lot. For a Greek family, tradition is usually fostered by stability and deep attachment with your surroundings. Many villagers have a strong connection with their region because they lived there all their lives, as did their fathers and forefathers. Generations remain in the same place and specific ways of speaking and of course cooking become strongly ingrained.

Fifi (my mum) and her sister Rena never lived in the villages. Their family travelled from city to city, spending time in Egypt, France and sometimes Greece. Cooking influences ranged from middle eastern to French provincial, without a whole lot of Greek.

However, as I discovered the other night when my mum was telling me this story, there are certain Greek traits that will always remain, no matter how untraditional a family may be.

Marika, my mum's mother, enjoyed making her own ricotta cheese, but not without the help of the maid that was employed to help with the cooking and at times run errands for the family. The cheese kept longer if stored in brine, but it needed to be a special kind of brine. The special kind that was fetched from the ocean by the maid and brought back to the house in a bottle. Now that's a special kind of maid. But get this: During times when the family wasn't living anywhere near a beach, a friend or relative on the other side of the country would be asked to make the collection and post the bottle back in the mail!

This to me is very Greek. No matter what country you live in or how French your cuisine, if you're Greek you will do anything to make sure things are done right. This and stubbornness are strong Greek traits in our family, even if doing it right means doing it wrong. Of course we never admit to being wrong!

There are sooooo many uses in Greek vegetarian cooking for ricotta cheese. Sweet and savoury pies, pasta dishes, stuffed vegetables, custards, cakes and tarts, or just on toast with some Greek honey.

Most commercial ricotta is produced using the whey left over from the production of other cheeses which are likely to have been processed using animal rennet, so for many vegetarians store-bought ricotta is not an option.

Thankfully, one of the traditional ways to make ricotta uses a completely different method, free from any traces of animal rennet, and it's one of the easiest things to make at home. It also tastes amazing. And it's very hard to get this wrong!

The photo at the top of this post is of a spreadable, smoother version of ricotta cheese, whereas below is a picture of firm ricotta. Both are outlined in the recipe below.

Home-made Ricotta Cheese


Makes about 400 grams of ricotta

Ingredients

  • 1.5 litres whole milk
  • 1 cup whole cream
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Note: Many thickened creams contain gelatin which is an animal by-product. Check the label.

Instructions

  1. In a medium pot, heat the milk and cream until just beginning to simmer. You will need to stand by the stove to make sure the milk doesn't boil, and stir occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. This will take around ten minutes so you might want some hummus and dipping biscuits at hand.
  2. Once simmering, remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Stir very gently for around 30 seconds. The milk will immediately begin to curdle (see Picture 1 at end of instructions). Add the salt and stir gently for another 30 seconds.
  3. Cover the pot with a clean tea towel and let stand at room temperature for around 1 hour.
  4. Line a fine-mesh strainer with two or three layers of cheesecloth, allowing a few inches of overhang. Set the strainer over a bowl and pour the curds into the strainer (see Picture 2).
  5. (Omit this step if you are making a smooth ricotta.) Carefully gather the corners of the cheesecloth and tie with string or a rubber band to create a bag, leaving it to sit in the strainer over the bowl (see Picture 3). Transfer to the refrigerator.
  6. Let the ricotta sit in the strainer for anywhere between 10 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the desired consistency. The longer you leave it, the firmer the ricotta will become.
For a smooth, spreadable ricotta
There is no need to tie up the bag for smooth ricotta as it only needs to strain for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, empty the curds from the cheese cloth into a separate bowl and whisk to the desired consistency. Enjoy it spread thickly over crusty bread with home-made fig paste (recipe coming soon!).

For a firm ricotta
Lift the bag from the strainer after 2 hours and gently press out any excess whey. I sit mine on a few sheets of paper towel and press. Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth and carefully use your hands to form a round shape.

Your ricotta can then be placed in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to one week, but I guarantee it will be gone before then. You won't be able to help but use it to make beautiful spanakopita (cheese and spinach pie), melitinia (sweet cheese pastries) or my take on ricotta yemista (stuffed vegetables) (recipes coming soon!)

Picture 1: The milk will immediately begin to curdle as soon as you add the lemon juice.


Picture 2: Set the strainer over a bowl lined with cheesecloth.


Picture 3: Tie with string or a rubber band to create a cheesecloth bag.



17 comments:

  1. I have to admit, after tasting it, it beats store bought riccota, hands down! So light, it is almost like whipped cream.
    T

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    1. Thank you "T" (my other half). (He's a shy one my Tony.)

      Yes, the smooth ricotta becomes lighter the more you whisk it. Hmmm, just getting an idea for cake frosting...

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  2. Yummm, I've only made it a handful of times, but homemade is definitely so much nicer!
    The leftover whey is also great to use up in breadmaking/soups or any other cooking at your discretion. ;)

    Love the tale of the sea brine being posted in the mail, very proper I have to say!

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    1. I've also heard some people use the whey in protein drinks. I personally have a bit of an aversion to whey. It's one of those substances that inexplicably makes me cringe. I know, childish, but it's just one of those things for me. I am trying to get past it though because I know whey has many many uses!

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  3. Excellent! Thanks Lisa; that looks and sounds fantastic. Now I just have to be on the hunt for a seaside maid!

    Andra x

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    1. It's so easy Andra, and it actually tastes really good straight out of the strainer, while it's still warm.

      I wish I had a maid too!

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  4. Hi Lisa ... just logged onto your blog now and I am loving it. The photos are also amazing. Keep up the great work and I will definitely be a regular follower.

    I am also writing a blog at www.whatimeisdinner.com so have a look when you get the chance.
    I have had a 6 week break but planning to do my first 2013 blog in the next day or two and then every few days following that – this is my New Year's resolution!

    Nicola

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    1. Hi Nicola, great to see you here!

      I'm already following your blog and have been waiting for AGES for you to post! Looking forward to reading about your next culinary adventure.

      I'm so glad you like my blog. Please spread the word and don't forget to like my facebook page! There's a "like" button just over there in the left-hand column.

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  5. I love your photos. Love love love! Making my own ricotta has been on my to-do list for a while. I really need to do it!

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    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment Kiersten. You will fall in love with home-made ricotta. I just eat it straight out of the bowl.

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  6. Hi Lisa!
    Thank you a lot for step-by-step recipe. It is really good to have a chance to make ricotta cheese at home. I always have a problem to find this product at supermarkets.

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    1. You're welcome Anna! Thank you for dropping by. I'm sure you'll have great success making your own ricotta, it's so very easy, and you won't have worry about trying to find it in the supermarket again!

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  7. Hello Lisa, I've just found you and I love your blog. I'm a passionate cook who live by the sea and I love making things the 'old school' way. Will be makng this over the weekend. As an aside, I get so frustrated when buying cream - why are 90% of the brands thickened. Why why why do they need to add things to such a wonderful food!

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    1. Hey Lydia, good to meet you! I'm so pleased you found this ricotta recipe. It's so simple but is absolutely delicious. I make it all the time. I agree about the cream, so annoying. I've recently discovered a dairy product brand from Queensland - Barambah Organics. What I love about them is that all their animals are looked after in a way that I've never seen on a dairy farm. None of their animals are killed or sent away for "disposal" after they're no longer productive. They keep them all there until they die of old age. I just love that :) By the way, I just read your Pink Eye post. LOVED it – so funny!!

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  8. Hi Lisa,
    I stumbled across your fabulous site whilst searching for vegetarian ideas on pinterest. I'm so glad I found you! I adore Greek food and although I eat meat I prefer a small portion with most of my plate being vegetarian. Your recipes are just perfect for that. Today we (my 3 year old son and I) made your Ricotta. It's divine. I look forward to trying all of your recipes. Thank you!!
    Amrita

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    1. Hi Amrita! I'm glad you found my blog too! I hope you find some interesting recipes here. I'm still building the site and have a lot more to share - it's a slow but enjoyable work in progress! Oh that's so gorgeous that you and your little son made the ricotta! It's just the best isn't it? So creamy and fresh. I'm really glad you loved it :)

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  9. My mother used to use a twig off the fig tree to stir the milk. I remember the pillow slip hung from the shower head to drain. Will be using your recipe though.....

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