Cheese making is hard right? That's the perception most people have, and while creating complex, hard, aged cheeses is more difficult and demands a certain environment; creating soft fresh cheese isn't hard at all. In fact, it's fun and interesting!
In this house we drink whole milk, and we go through quite a bit of it. So the other day we were quite surprised when it turned out I had accidentally bought skim milk since apparently the labels share a similar color scheme. And if you're used to whole milk, then skim milk tastes so extremely watery and bland - really why does anyone put themselves through drinking that watered-down version of real milk (never mind pay for it, since I payed the same amount for that as I normally do for my organic whole milk)?
Since we obviously weren't going to drink that half gallon we started thinking about what we could do with it (because there is nothing I hate more than throwing away food!) Well, why not make ricotta cheese? Ricotta is usually made with the whey left over after making mozzarella, hence a low fat milk would be perfect!
We dabbled in cheese making a bit a few years ago and created mozzarella and some goat cheese. But then time just passed and, well I guess it got pushed to the side. Well, after making this ricotta I really wonder why, because it's so easy.
The only disappointing part is what a relatively small amount of cheese you get out of a rather large amount of milk. It really makes you think about how much milk you're actually consuming when you're eating cheese!
Usually when making cheese you use rennet, however you can use any acidic agent and since we had lemons on hand, we used lemon juice. It's important to heat the milk up slowly, or else it will burn at the bottom of the pan.
We used a four quart pot and slowly heated half a gallon of skim milk until it reached 200 degrees F. At that point we added about 1 oz of lemon juice and watched as the milk separated into whey and cheese solids.
Once it seemed as if the cheese had completely separated we drained the curds in a colander covered with cheese cloth.
At this point all that's left to do is season the cheese with some salt and pepper and we also drizzled some olive oil on top before enjoying it as an appetizer.
Ricotta is such a cool type of cheese, it really does have an interesting consistency and you can use it for baking, enjoy it fresh, add it to pasta, lasagna and so forth. Of course you could also flavor this cheese with anything you'd like: why not some garlic and fresh herbs, or perhaps a minced chipotle pepper? Either way it's kind of cool, and definitely a good way to use up left over (or accidentally bought) milk!