In this modern world of high technology we are all led to believe that many things are just too hard for us mere mortals to do, and they should be left to experts in factories. Making cheese is a classic example of this thought process, after all it must be too hard to make at home mustn’t it? Well actually no it isn’t and when you think about it we’ve been making cheese for more than 5000 years.

In fact the first cheeses were probably discovered as a mistake. Imagine the simple goat herder somewhere in North Africa or the Arab regions, the only watertight container that he has to carry with him as he tends his flock for the day is a goats stomach, cleaned and tied at both ends, one day as a treat he takes some of the goats milk instead of water and when he stops for a break he discovers to his horror that the milk has separated and gone all lumpy. He then does what we all would do in the same situation and tentatively tastes a bit, to his surprise he finds it palatable and to his joy he discovers, over time, that this new lumpy stuff also last so much longer that the original milk while retaining all of its goodness.

Over centuries the simple process of making cheese spreads and becomes as varied as the people that make it. Cheese-making is an art. The skills required to make a good cheese can not be taught – they can only be learned by experience. As you progress, your senses will develop. You will be able to note changes in the taste, texture and smell of the milk, curd and ultimately the cheese.

So on to today’s recipe, To make any cheese you need good milk, preferably organic. Using fresh, whole milk from grass-fed cows (from a nearby farm) will produce the best results, but using milk from the shop/supermarket which has not been homogenised (e.g. Ridge Farm Milk) should also produce good results. Low-fat milk also can be used to make cheese, but you’ll get less cheese as a result. Ultra-high-temperature or UHT pasteurisation allows milk to be shipped long distances and stored without refrigeration, but its coagulating ability is damaged in the process and so it can’t be made into cheese.

Next is the salt which enhances flavour, draws out excess moisture and acts as a preservative. Avoid iodized salt, because it can slow down active starter bacteria. Specialty cheese salt is coarser than regular table salt and is non-iodized. And finally it’s best to use filtered water when making cheese, as some water supplies contain compounds that compromise milk’s ability to be made into cheese. Happy cheese making.

Superquick Ricotta

Ricotta is traditionally made by re-cooking the whey from a previous batch of hard cheese, such as Parmesan, but this recipe is a simpler version. Use fresh ricotta in Italian classics like lasagne, or serve with honey and Italian breads.

Makes 600 to 800g

3.8 litres milk
1 tsp citric acid dissolved in 60ml cool water
1 tsp cheese salt (optional)

Put the milk and citric acid solution into a stainless steel pan. Stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, slowly heat the mixture to between 85 and 90°C. As soon as the curds and whey separate (there should be no milky whey, only clear whey), turn off the heat and let sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.

Line a colander with cheesecloth, and ladle the curds into the colander. Mix in the salt with a spoon. Let the cheese drain for 30 to 45 minutes. For firmer cheese, tie the cheesecloth into a bag and hang it from a hook to drain. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

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