“Little Miss Muffit sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey,…”
A few years ago I took a class at Sur La Table on how to make cheese.
It’s all part of this Little House on the Prairie inspired quilting-baking-butter churning-gardening-chicken raising-cheese making-dig your own well-chop your own wood-live in a dugout lifestyle. I needed to check cheese making off the bucket list. (Remember the Little House books? Before the TV series, before the sets of cute little American Girl book sets that you could spend your inheritance buying the dolls and accessories for?)
Anyhow, in this class we had made mozzarella, which I have blogged about, and made butter in the food processor. No more shaking the jar of cream for 20 minutes. We also made queso fresco and ricotta. I was not part of the ricotta group. I was in the mozzarella/butter group.
But here I was with plans on making lasagna. The gauntlet had been thrown on the ground at my feet. My dh was always going on about Cortina’s lasagna. And I have to admit, their lasagna is pretty darned wonderful. Cortina’s is a little Italian deli, store and restaurant in Anaheim. There is a store and deli on one side, with a separate little hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the other. (And there is literally a hole in the wall so you can order through the store side while you shop). There were always police cars in the parking lot, which as you know is police code for “the best grub is here!” Their pizza is remarkable too.
Anyway, while we were there we bought some Italian sausage and some lasagna noodles. After all, what’s the big deal? Can’t anyone make good lasagna like they can? How hard can it be? I’ve made lasagna before! It’s time consuming, but easy. Right?
So I was challenged.
Make lasagna as good as Cortina’s.
You need sauce, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, noodles and so on.
So what could I do to help achieve lasagna nirvana?
Then I looked up my cheese recipes. Oh wow, this looked too easy!
Homemade ricotta? That’s bound to bump it up a notch.
Why homemade? Because I can. And because I had all the ingredients. (all 3 of them).
And anything homemade has to be better.
I will make another post with the lasagna details. Here are the details to ricotta.
First off, there is ricotta and there is ricotta.
Apparently the stuff I made is more along the lines of cottage cheese. But it was a tried and true recipe from Sur La Table! I trust them! After I made some and it was draining, I looked online for others thoughts on ricotta. It would seem this and the other recipes like mine are not really ricotta. Ricotta means ‘re-cooked’ or ‘cooked again’. You make ricotta out of the whey from another cheese.
Now that you mention it, the whey (the left over liquid after you take out the cheese curds) did look pretty milky still. I bet it still had some cheese left in her!
So I did it again. Followed other online instructions and ‘re-cooked’ the whey. Sure enough, it made another ball of cheese! I let it drain for a longer period of time, making it a drier cheese. It made maybe ¾ of a cup. I thought that was pretty good for something I was about to throw out.
Then again, some people feed the whey to livestock. Some use it for bread making. I put the leftover, now greenish and clearer, whey in a large glass jar and stuck it in the fridge until I decide whether to dump it down the drain or not.
So, on to ricotta-or-cottage cheese, both of which can be used in lasagna. I did not care what you want to call it. It became cheese with very little effort. (and tasty on toast too).
You will need:
8 cups of whole milk (or 7 cups whole milk and 1 cup of cream for a creamier cheese.)
½-1 tsp. of fine salt with no iodine
2 cups of buttermilk, preferably whole milk. (mine was 2%)
That’s it as far as ingredients go.
Then there is the equipment:
A large heavy bottomed cooking pot. (As opposed to a heavy bottom cook).
A sieve or colander lined with 3 layers of dampened cheesecloth set over a large bowl. (I have a special cheese towel I use, that is a looser weave, just for this kind of thing.)
Place the milk in a large heavy saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring almost constantly, I use a whisk, until the milk comes to a frothing boil. Turn off the heat and quickly stir in the salt and buttermilk. Continue gently stirring in one direction, (I used a wooden spoon at this point) until the curds and whey separate. It will start to look thicker and chunky. The whey will still look milky and the curds will be small. This only took a few minutes. Remove from the stove and let sit undisturbed for about 5-8 minutes.
Carefully pour the curds and whey through the cheesecloth. The whey will go into the big bowl. The curds will stay in the cheesecloth. I had to shift it around to get it to drain enough to keep pouring. I would pour some, wait, wiggle it around, pour some more…
Let this drain for about 15-30 minutes.
I actually tied off the cloth and hung it up to drain with a bowl sitting under it. It was still a creamy cheese that could have been drained longer, but I was excited and happy the way it turned out.
Now what to do with the whey?
I added a splash of whole milk to the whey to make it creamier.
I put it back on the stove and reheated it to about 190 degrees, adding a little salt.
I turned down the heat and kept it at that temperature for several minutes.
Then I added about ½ tsp of citric acid (I had from my mozzarella days) to a little water in a cup, to dissolve it and put it in the pot. I stirred the pot up and there were curds forming! Now these are delicate curds, fluffy little curd clouds. I scooped them out with a slotted spoon into the same cloth, in a strainer over a bowl. I lifted out the curds until they were all gone.
Hung this one up and it drained the same, but I left it a little longer. It did come out drier, but it tasted very similar.
Use it on toast or bagels or in eggs. Mix it with honey and use with crackers. It is like a softer cream cheese, or cottage cheese. It is unique, creamy, tasty. And great in lasagna!