How was cheese first invented? No one knows for sure. Early shepherds may have discovered the transformation of milk to cheese when milk was left to stand idly in its container. The cream would’ve risen to the top, the remaining milk would’ve turned acid and curdled into a yogurt, which when drained, would separate into curd and whey.
To make cheese, you need three main ingredients: milk, rennet enzymes and microbes. The milk generally comes from cows, goats, and sheep but may also be derived from buffalo, yak, etc. With cheese production in the US, the milk used is almost always pasteurized — the exception being cheeses aged a minimum of 60 days at temperatures greater than 35F. As a result, soft cheeses made with raw milk have been banned from import since the 1950s to “eliminate disease and spoilage bacteria”. Meanwhile, French, Swiss and Italian regulation forbid the use of pasteurized milk in traditional cheese making.
A Recipe for Whole Milk Ricotta
[From “Artisan Cheese Making At Home” by Mary Karlin]
- 1 gallon pasteurized or raw whole cow’s milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp citric acid powder
- 2 tsp kosher salt
In a nonreactive, heavy 6-quart stockpot, combine milk, cream, citric acid, and 1 tsp of the salt and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Place over medium-low heat and slowly heat the milk to 185F to 195F. This should take about 15-20 minutes.. Stir frequently with a plastic spatula to prevent scorching.
As the milk reaches the desired temperature, you’ll see the curds start to form. When the curds and whey separate and the whey is yellowish green and slightly cloudy, remove from the heat. Gently run a thin rubber spatula around the edge of the curds to rotate the mass. Cover the pan and let the curds set without disturbing for 10 minutes.
Place a non-reactive strainer over a nonreactive bowl or bucket large enough to capture to whey. line it with clean, damp butter muslin and gently ladle the curds into it. Use a long-handled mesh skimmer to capture the last of the curds. Do not include scorched curds.
Distribute the remaining 1tsp salt over the curds and gently toss them with your hands to incorporate. Be careful not to break them in the process.
Make a draining sack: Tie two opposite corners of the butter muslin into a knot and repeat with the other two corners. Slip a dowel or wood spoon under the knots to suspend the bag over the whey catching receptacle, or suspend it over the kitchen sink using kitchen twine tied around the faucet. If you like moist ricotta, stop draining just as they whey stops dripping. For drier ricotta or if making ricotta salata, let the curds drain for a longer period of time. Discard the whey or keep it for another use.
- For richer ricotta, try replacing the milk with more heavy cream.
- In pace of citric acid, lemon juice may be used to coagulate.
- How Food Preservation Works (howstuffworks.com)
- An Appetite for Gourmet Cheese Grows in India (wsj.com)
- The Strange History of Cheese (livescience.com)
- Ancient Africans Made Cheese, Settled Down (discover.com)
- McGee, Harold. “Pasteurized and Raw Milks.” On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004.