Cheese. By God if there is a food product that I cannot get enough of, it is cheese. I was asked a very interesting question once: If I was forced to give up one of these two foods: chocolate; or cheese… which would it be? There was no question in my mind. I’d happily give up chocolate any day to keep the cheese.
Cheese, like bread, has been a staple and a comfort-food in the human diet since time immemorial. Soft and hard varieties as well as mild and pungent ones make this food item a versatile and pleasing meal additive or enhancer that also stands brilliantly on it’s own with fruit, olives, bread, jellies, herbs and chutneys. Cheese-making originated long before recorded history with some theories suggesting that it originated in the Middle East and others suggesting it began in eastern Europe during the Neolothic Revolution and the spread of agriculture westward through the Mediterranean. It was during the early Neolithic period that humans began to move from hunter/gatherer lifestyles into the practices of farming, animal husbandry and the keeping of livestock. With this development they discovered that domesticated animals could also be milked and not just used as a source of meat.
Documentary evidence of cheese-making from ancient Mesopotamia in the form of Sumerian cuneiform text (circa 2,000 BC) refered to cheese. In Egypt, also from 2,000 BC, funeral murals have also documented butter and cheese-making processes. The earliest material culture indicating cheese-making, however, has been found in Poland and dates to 5,500 BC. By 50 AD, the evidence of cheese making by the Romans was made known in great detail by Columella in his writing De Re Rustica (On Agriculture – 65 AD).
Fast-forward many millenia later and cheese is still found on our tables and used in our cooking but the preparation of it and how it arrives in it’s delightful form from milk remains a mystery to most consumers. Surprisingly, it is incredibly easy to make but the amount of milk-fat that goes into making a small portion of cheese gives the consumer an idea as to why it is one of the more ‘expensive’ items we buy at the market.
I myself enjoy making cheese from scratch, I know I don’t have to make it myself but I try to spend the time whenever I can to do this as the outcome is so rewarding. When I’ve searched for recipes online, however, I found that some recipes and cheese-making processes in the home looked rather clinical and complicated. Thermometers, rubber gloves, rennet tablets… Too complicated! I don’t think our fore-mothers and fore-fathers made cheese-making that complicated so I don’t intend to either. This is a very simple recipe that is easy and very rewarding. The only thing hard about making this recipe is carrying the bottles of milk up the stairs!
- 2 litres whole milk (4% or homogenized)
- 2 cups of cream
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 lemons
Pour the milk and cream into a large pot and boil it on high while whisking it until it reaches the boiling point and froths. This will take about 10 minutes. Don’t walk away and chat on the phone or you’ll burn the milk! Keep whisking… Once the milk froths and flares up, turn the element off and cut and squeeze in the juice of 2 lemons. Stir the lemon juice into the milk and then leave it stand for 15 minutes until the milk curdles and the whey separates.
Line a sieve with cheesecloth and pour the curds into it straining off the whey. Leave the curds to cool for 30 minutes. Once the whey has drained tie the cheese cloth tight around the curds and give it a light squeeze to get rid of any excess whey. Use a clip or tie a strong knot with the edges of the cloth snug around the curds and refridgerate overnight in the sieve with something heavy on top of it to press it down and release excess whey (I used my small cast-iron Le Creuset pot and it worked like a charm!). In the morning you will have a firm and creamy ball of fresh ricotta to use in your baking, on your pasta, or in your cannoli!
Buon Appetito and good eating to you.
Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions about this recipe below.