Ricotta Salata


It's been an ugly week people. Mass murder at home and abroad. Racism. Swarms of bad ideas and without Kurt Vonnegut to make it seem funny somehow.

It's made me get real philosophical about the world and forced me to attempt to come to a separate peace with all of the stupid cruelty that it encompasses.

Oddly enough I've also been in the process of coming to terms with another, more ongoing, crisis of the soul between me and cheese, or more specifically, a cheese.

I've spent the better part of my career in food selling cheese to stupid people and, from Wholefoods in the OC to Murray's in the West Village, it seems that even the most buffoonish customer loves Ricotta Salata.

I used to roll my eyes at these cheese morons because RS didn't hold a candle to the the flavor or texture of Abbey Citeaux.

Now I'm less judgemental and a bit wiser.

Ricotta Salata is actually a potentially delicious cheese if it's in the right place at the right time. On a salad of shaved fennel and dandelion greens, say. And for that very purpose I set out to make peace with one of the former members of my most hated cheese list by making it myself with no more than some vague descriptions from the Slow Food Italian Cheese book and a basic recipe for making ricotta.

That seems like a stretch doesn't it? I've had more than one depressed friend say the words "end times" this week and here I am I'm drawing parallels to salted ricotta. Have I finally drown in my own self-important, food dork bullshit? Hardly.

Let's get real people. The world will always be a turd parade if you look at it close enough and the only thing that will ever make us feel like it's worth living in is a good plate of food, a decent bottle of wine and someone to share it with. I thank God each and every day that George Bush is in the White House because he makes my food taste better.

ANYWAY. Ricotta Salata:

Ricotta salata is less a specific cheese and more of a self-explanatory method of production. It means simply "salted ricotta" and as such it is very democratic. Each person can make this cheese to their own means and ability and it will never be wrong. Isn't that nice? You feel better already don't you?

In common terms ricotta salata is a cheese made from the whey of sheep's milk that is salted and pressed until it has a fined grained, salty and chalk-like texture.

If you wanted to, you could buy ricotta in the store, mix in a healthy dose of salt and strain it in a bag of cheese cloth for a week in your refrigerator. It would be a bit blander and creamer than you might want but I'm sure the pride of having made cheese in your own kitchen would gloss over it's shortcomings.

Because I'm an over-achiever I decided to make mine from scratch from some top quality goat milk. I'm dooshy, what can I say?

Make the Pain Go Away

1 1/2 gallons FRESH goat milk (you can get it from Coach Farm at the farmers market)

1/3 cup white or cider vinegar

A mold (a chinois or one of those cheap sieves from the 99 cent store will work just fine)

A candy thermometer

Salt (you can get ultra fine cheese makers salt but I'm a Kosher salt man myself)

No, Seriously, Make the Pain Go Away

Before you start I need to make it clear again that your milk must be fresh or you'll end up with some less than optimal results. Trust me.

Now pour your milk into a pot of the proper size and put it over medium low heat until it reaches 200'. SLOWLY stir in your dose of vinegar and lower the heat to simmer territory while slowly and gently moving the milk around. In about 1-3 minutes you will see small curds rise to the top. Count your blessings, turn off the heat and place your mold over another pot of equal or greater volume. Pour your milk through the mold/strainer slowly and let the curds drain for a few minutes before you move them into a mixing bowl.

Meanwhile take your whey (the left over milky stuff) and start heating it again until you reach 200'.

You guessed it, add vinegar (less this time and make sure that you only add a small amount, stir and then wait to see what happens before adding more) until the stray proteins in your whey coagulate into curds again. Watch your vinegar! Too much and your curds will taste like the all-singing, all-dancing urine of the world. Take it easy. You'll then pour them through your strainer again and let them drip dry before you mix them with your earlier, whole milk curds along with a tablespoon and half of salt. Mix the curds gently and thoroughly and then place them back into your mold which you will place over a bowl, wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 3-4 days.

3 or 4 days have passed and you can now demold your product into a good sized bowl where it will live for the next few weeks. Every day for at least the first week you will sprinkle salt over the outside of the cheese and re-wrap with plastic and return it to the refrigerator once or twice a day. Please pour off the whey that will begin to weep out of the salted cheese, like the tears of Christ, before salting. You will be able to use the amount of leaked whey as well as it's firmness to the touch as a method of judging the level of doneness of your cheese. When the cheese starts to firm up and lose less whey you can salt less often until it is pretty firm (at least a week and a half if not two or three). After that you can begin to experiment with it's various culinary uses, just make sure to re-salt the cut face of the cheese as the salt is what is keeping your little white friend from becoming a petri dish.

Variations on this recipe include rubbing a two week old cheese with black pepper and baking in the oven for 35 minutes at 300' or, instead of dry salting, you can simply submerse the whole cheese in brine. This is good thing to do if you're busy and tend to forget about things like feeding your cat. The result of a ignored ricotta in brine is simply a salty ricotta instead of science experiment ricotta.

That's it kids. Sublimate your cheese in the brine of your tears so that you can later eat it with Spring argula and a nice bottle of Sardinian red.