Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dairy Queen -- Or I Make Ricotta Cheese, Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese

I’m urban through and through. My mother thought I’d never live anywhere there weren’t sidewalks, subway access and tall buildings and laughed at my angst at moving to suburbia (a single family house in Oakland). But even with my New York accent and big city ways, I have always hankered to produce my own cheeses and yogurts. I don't know if is my foodie passion or reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles at too young an age, but the dairy arts have always appealed to me.

I had made the relatively simple yogurt cheese for years but in honor of the Jewish holiday Shavuot with its dairy food associations, I thought I would add ricotta cheese and yogurt to my list of homemade staples (which also includes pickles and granola).

For more information on Shavuot and its dairy tradition, please click here to see my column in j. weekly, where these recipes originally appeared.
The cheese and yogurt recipes below require little special equipment, mostly cheesecloth and an instant read thermometer. They do require a little patience, but they are well worth it for their taste and freshness.

Ricotta Cheese
Makes 2 cups

This cheese is light and fluffy. It can be kept a few days but will become denser. Eat fresh sprinkled with salt, pepper and chopped herbs or with berries and honey. Use it to make fillings for crepes, omelets or even lasagna. Adapted from Cucina Fresca by Viana LaPlace and Evan Kleiman.

2 quarts whole milk (or try with half goat's milk)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2-6 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Combine the milk and cream in a pan. Cook over a medium-low heat stirring occasionally until the milk begins to simmer (about 185 to 190 degrees on an instant read thermometer). Add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir and watch for the mixture to separate into tiny curds about half the size of a small grain of rice. Repeat until curds appear. Reserve the rest of the juice for another use. Pour the curdled milk into a colander lined with a dampened, double layer of cheesecloth. Drain over a deep bowl for an hour or until very thick. Discard the liquid, or whey, or use to make soup or bread. (I made a fabulous corn chowder with it.) Store airtight in the refrigerator.

Homemade Yogurt
Makes 1 Quart

Use however you’d use commercial yogurt. This is based on a recipe from ReadyMade magazine. Be sure the yogurt you use as a starter has live, active cultures and is made without stabilizers or gelatins.
1 quart whole or 2 percent milk
2 Tbs. plain yogurt (whole, low-fat or non-fat)
Cook milk over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until it reaches 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove pan from heat. Let cool until milk is 115 degrees. Add yogurt and mix well. Pour into a quart jar with lid. Wrap in towels. Place in an insulated cooler bag or ice chest for 12 hours or overnight. Afterwards, store finished yogurt in the refrigerator.

Yogurt Cheese
Makes about 2½ cups

Use yogurt cheese as a spread either plain or seasoned. Be sure your yogurt has live, active cultures and is made without stabilizers or gelatins. Try goat (my favorite) or sheep milk yogurt for extra tang.
32 ounces of whole, low-fat or non-fat plain yogurt

Place the yogurt in a colander lined with a double thickness of dampened cheese cloth over a deep bowl. Allow to drain in the refrigerator 12 hours or overnight. Serve as a spread. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container. For a thicker cheese, tie the drained yogurt in its cheesecloth to the handle of a wooden spoon and suspend over a bowl for another four hours. Serve plain, seasoned or shaped into logs or balls and rolled in cracked black pepper or minced herbs. Wrap in plastic. Store in the refrigerator.

Update: For recipes for a whey chowder and one using the fresh ricotta as a blintz filling, please click here.
About the photos: Top: Ricotta cheese with berries and honey. Bottom - Homemade yogurt ready to be zipped up in cooler bag for 12 hours. For a photo of the yogurt cheese spread on rustic bread and topped with olives, herbs and a drizzle of olive oil, click here.

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