I started a new trend this year that I very much like: the random day off. I don't know why in my professional 9-5 career this brilliant little idea never occurred to me. Take the day off to something that you enjoy. Seems kinda like a no-brainer, right? It doesn't have to be a major production or a extravagant vacation to be worth taking a vacation day for. And there's something so special about taking the day off to do not much. Sure you could have this sort of day on a Saturday or Sunday or whatever your scheduled day off is, but then it sort of loses the fun. You see, there's a whole element of excitement; banging around the house in sweatpants while others suit up for work. Lingering over coffee, watching terrible tv (might I recommend the Fresh Prince of Bel Air or a little Saved by the Bell perhaps? But just the episodes before they went to college, the "college years" were just crap), and then of course there is the fact that after all that's done, you've still got a full day and nothing, glorious nothing to do. One word for all this: amazing. Simply amazing.
So what did I do with my time off? I felt like I wanted to achieve something so I pulled out my lifelong "foodie to do list" (yes, I have one) and set out to tick one item of the list: make homemade ricotta cheese. I had come across this recipe in one my favorite cookbooks, Stir, written by Boston's own Barbara Lynch. I love her work; her creativity, drive, tough-as-nails attitude and radiating passion for food arguable make her one of Boston best chefs. She's opened up a slew of celebrated restaurants in town (No. 9 Park, Sportello, B&G Oysters, Menton and my personal favorite, The Butcher Shop, just to name a few). Needless to say, I knew I'd be in good hands following any recipe of hers, especially when it came to my first attempt at making cheese from my Small Boston Kitchen.
It's funny. I love cheese like most people love chocolate; at the end of a long hard day, it's a glass of wine and some cheese I reach for. No Hershey bars here, please. That being said, I never gave much thought to how to make it and certainly didn't think it was possible to do so from my teeny tiny little kitchen. But, with only 7 things needed to make it (a big pan, a gallon of milk, white vinegar, salt, cheesecloths, a colander and thermometer) it's actually quite simple and the results are light years away from that stuff they sell at the grocery stores. It's so much lighter and smoother, with an almost fluffy quality to it. It also has a great milky flavor and just a soft tang that reminds you off all it had to go through to get to its yummy ricotta cheese state. But before I get carried away, musing on about how awesome this is, let me show you just how easy it is to make.
To start, line a colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth and prop it up in a clean sink.
Next, pour a gallon (yep, a whole gallon) of whole milk into a pot. Toss in 3/4 cup of distilled white vinegar and 1 tbs kosher salt. Fix a thermometer to the side of the pot and continuously stir the milk mixture until the thermometer reads 140 degrees.
Once the temperature reaches 140, let the milk mixture just sit until it the temperature reaches 175. This is where it gets really cool now; the curds will start to form and separate. The surface will get bubbly and dimply.
Once the temperature reaches 175 you have to be on high alert so that the milk doesn't heat above 180 because it will overcook the cheese, resulting in a gross, grainy substance. What you want to do instead is take the pot off the heat a couple degrees before 180. Then, using a ladle, gently scoop the mixture into the cheesecloth lined colander, allowing the why to strain, thus creating ricotta. Special note: the longer you strain it, the harder the cheese. Look at my first batch of homemade ricotta cheese, isn't it beautiful?!
After everything was said and done, I was left with about 2 1/2-3 cups of cheese and from start to finish, it took me about an hour to make, not including the time it took for the cheese to drain. Totally worth the effort for delicious, homemade cheese. I'm going to have a real hard time going back to store bought lumpy ricotta after this little delicacy...try making it in your own kitchen, you'll be happy you did!