Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bee Cheesy!

Last week, while at a local Bird Sanctuary, we found ourselves mesmerized by the busy honey bees on display at the visitor center. I've never really been a fan of honey. As a child my mother would make us hot lemon with honey when we were sick with a sore throat, I always wished she would leave the honey out. She knew what she was doing of course. Honey is a great remedy for both sore throat and cough, in fact, a spoon of Buckwheat Honey is especially good if your cough is that persistent kind that just wont let you get to sleep. There is one way I like honey though and that's when it's drizzled over ricotta on a thick piece of fresh wholegrain bread, but it has to be raw honey, grocery store cheap honey definitely not for me. It has been processed and all the health benefits destroyed in that process. Visit your local whole food store for great local raw honey, or get it straight from the hive, it's best.

Ricotta is very easy to make and since learning how, I always make my own. It only has three simple ingredients, milk, salt and lemon, and it's fun to watch your milk turn from creamy goodness into lumpy curds right before your eyes. A quick note on the milk. Ricotta needs to be made with full fat milk, you can do it with two percent but it's really not worth it. It's thin and flavourless. If you want to make your ricotta really creamy, you can substitute up to one cup of the milk with heavy cream, worth doing if you're entertaining and  really want to  impress your guests or if you want to serve the ricotta simply as a dip or spread.


Homemade Ricotta

4 cups whole milk (or substitute up to one cup of the milk with some heavy cream)
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Using a candy thermometer, heat the milk in a non reactive pan until it reaches 190F. If you don't have a thermometer, heat until you have a foam with medium bubbles around the edge of the pan, the milk is steaming gently and small bubbles are starting to come to the surface. Occasionally stir the milk to prevent it from burning on the bottom of the pan. Take your time bringing it up to temperature over a low heat, you do not want the milk to boil or scold.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Only stir once or twice to distribute the juice then leave the milk to stand for about 5 minutes.
Line a fine mesh sieve with a couple of layers of muslin (I didn't have any so I used a clean cloth napkin) and set over a large bowl. Pour the milk mixture into the sieve and leave to strain for 1-2 hours. The longer you leave it the firmer it will get. 
You will be left with the curds, ricotta, in your sieve and the whey in the bowl. Discard the whey (unless you know what to do with it, I don't. It's protein rich so you could add it to your morning smoothie I suppose?).
Scrap the cheese from the cloth and store in an airtight container until ready to use.

So two things, this cheese is very subtle in flavour it's worth adding the salt, although I don't always. You can also make this with goats milk. I haven't tried with animal milk alternatives, but would love to hear from anyone who has. I'm guessing you would have to use tofu?

Happy cheese making!

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