A symptom of the rapidly moving technological world we live in is the increasing popularity of more ‘analogue’ pursuits. To counter our addiction to ‘i’-wares (and tablets) we are finding increasing pleasure in learning how to bake real bread, make fresh pasta, brew beer and wine, how to forage for ingredients from our hedgerows and parks.
This weekend I did a cheese-making course. I’d highly recommend it (here’s a link). In one day my daughter and I made ricotta, mascarpone, cream cheese, feta, brie and greek-style yoghurt in a farmhouse near Arundel alongside a broad cross-section of society. An equal number of males and females; ages ranging from schoolchildren to the retired; ‘Cor Blimey’ self-made-men; teachers; tour guides; builders. Comedians. Where one might have expected to find only the middle-class River Cottage addicted liberal left, there was a bit of everyone. Evidence that my theory is correct and people from all walks of life, fed up with Apples, Pop-ups and Cookies are seeking something more hands-on and satisfying.
And satisfying it was. Ironically, having driven back extolling the virtues of these ‘proper’ skills and how important they are, and berating our addiction to the world of new technologies (I did this extolling and berating to my family and friends who I telephoned from the car on my iPhone), as soon as I got home I went straight online to look for cheese-moulds, whey-cutters, yoghurt-makers and so on, (on Ebay, using an iMac, and wifi…). And here I am blogging about it all too. On a computer. Using the internet.
But here’s the simplest of recipes from the day, an easy way to make ricotta, using just milk and vinegar. Traditionally made ricotta is a byproduct of other cheese making, usually mozzarella. Protein is left behind in the whey after the curds are removed when making cheese, and by boiling after the addition of acid, (or rather the encouragement for it to develop naturally through fermentation) this protein can be harvested. So this quick and easy method rather goes against the frugal and worthy nature of the proper method as you end up chucking out a lot of whey. You can use it for other things though. Apparently it’s a great fertiliser on your veg patch, and it can be used instead of water when you’re making bread.
Oh, and finally, please feel free to make up jokes involving the word ‘whey’. It’s fun and rather easy, but before you do I must let you know that I haven’t heard a better one than the one written by an audience member at a gig many years ago during the first Iraq war. There’s a rather common device used in comedy clubs, where the audience are given the name of a famous person, and an inanimate object, and they have to come up with a “what’s the difference between…” joke. It’s usually a hoover and a celebrity and the jokes revolve around sucking. On this occasion though it was ‘Saddam Hussein’ and ‘a spoon’ and the Little Miss Muffet inspired winning entry was – “Not much. They’re both trying to get the Curds out of the Way”
2 pints whole milk
40ml white vinegar
You’ll also need a large pan with a lid, a sieve, some thin muslin (or a clean j-cloth), a big jug and a large metal spoon with holes in.
Put the milk into a large saucepan and bring up to just below boiling point. Turn off the heat. Pour in the vinegar, give it a quick stir and then put the lid on and forget about it for half an hour.
When you take the lid off again you’ll see the curd is floating on the top of the milk. It’s appearance isn’t unlike baby sick. Carefully spoon off the curd with the holey spoon into the sieve which you’ve lined with the muslin and set over a jug. Keep going until you’ve got it all out. Then leave it for a few hours for the rest of the whey to drain off and the cheese to firm up.
It’s really nice and creamy. Better than the stuff in the shops, but then it would be wouldn’t it.
By the way, the photograph isn’t us making ricotta. It’s the early stages of brie.