We’ve been eating a lot of spinach lately. It’s growing like a weed in the veggie patch. The more I harvest, the more it grows. We’ve been eating a lot of ricotta too; they’re perfect bedfellows. So when I heard about a cheese making demonstration that would teach the intricacies of making ricotta, mozzarella and mascarpone, I booked myself a seat. I was spurred on by the $9.80 price tag on a single ball of buffalo mozzarella I’d bought at my local delicatessen a few days prior. It was an expensive topping on spinach and ricotta cannelloni (a Jamie Oliver recipe that’s totally worth a road test) and the thought of making both cheeses and growing my own spinach for the dish was a challenge I couldn’t pass up.
The Mad Millie cheese making kit I purchased as part of the demonstration deal – Beginners’ Italian Cheeses – contains all the equipment including thermometer, ricotta basket, cheese salt and citric acid – the latter is used to curdle the milk and create curds and whey. The only additional ingredient I had to invest in to make ricotta was two litres of homogenised milk (homogenised milk – the standard stuff found in supermarkets – has been heat treated and pressurised to break up the fat globules).
Making ricotta is pretty much a four-step process
- Add salt to milk and heat to 90°C.
- Remove pan from heat and add citric acid. The ricotta should curdle immediately.
- Leave ricotta to cool (between 1 and 4 hours).
- Scoop into draining basket.
Okay – so it’s an easy cheese to make. But that doesn’t diminish the personal satisfaction of psyching up your inner domestic goddess and mastering a traditional culinary skill.
The Mad Millie recipe booklet could include better instructions – or tips about what to look for at certain stages. For example, I was convinced my batch hadn’t curdled sufficiently, there seemed to be lots of whey and a meagre amount of crumb-sized pieces of curd. I expected the curds to be bigger and nearly threw it away as a failure. And at two different points the recipe calls for different quantities of water within which to dissolve the citric acid.
Despite this the ricotta turned out creamy and light. The cheese was moist and it beat effortlessly into creamed butter, sugar and egg yolks to create a rich batter for ricotta lemon cake.
I’ll definitely make it again – next time possibly a double batch. I’m not so sure about the mozzarella. All the stretching, folding – not breaking – then shaping and into smooth ping-pong sized balls looked easy in the hands of professional demonstrators but I know it will tax my novice cheese making skills. But it does make a scrumptious toasted topping for spinach and ricotta cannelloni. And for as long as the spinach flourishes, there will be plenty of that in fridge.