You knew this day was coming.
It’s the Boy’s birthday this week. And so, thanks to my friend Virginia, who after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle bought a mozzarella-making kit for her boys, the Boy and I have taken our first, tentative steps towards making our own cheeses!
I figured if a couple of adorable boys could make mozzarella at home and still have their mother declare that, “it was easy, and fun!” a couple of fully capable adults who both happen to be pretty handy could do it too. Alas. I overlooked one small detail, we don’t have a microwave.
So until we remember to buy a pair of heavy duty plastic gloves, and until I can find someone to sell me goat’s milk in bulk, we’re sticking to the easy cheese (no, not this stuff).
Our first cheese was a lemon panir. This cheese needs no special equipment. None. Just a thermometer and some cheesecloth.
I was already making a shell bean and corn salad for dinner and this was the only cheese in the recipe booklet that would be ready in time. It is the same thing as paneer and uses lemon to separate curds from whey because, well, rennet comes from, you know, cows.
There’s just one problem with this cheese. Saying it is the same thing as paneer is so wrong. The only kind of paneer I’ve had before is the stuff that could be tofu. Bland, flavorless, chewy and unyielding, all the paneers I’ve had have been good, but unmemorable.
Homemade panir curdled with lemon on the other hand? Delightful!
It’s light and creamy and lemony and seriously, the best word for it is delightful. It tastes like something you’d pay $25 a pound for at Dean & Deluca. It was the perfect addition to our light dinner of summer’s best salad.
For our second cheese (for some reason I feel like a huckster vaudvillian saying that) we made ricotta. Two pounds of it. And much to the chagrin of certain co-workers, I didn’t bring any of it into the office to share. Evil littler stinker ain’t I?
And they should be chagrinned. Homemade ricotta is just like homemade panir. It kicks ass.
The best part about making your own ricotta is that you get to control the whey content inside the curds. I like my ricotta a little drier, so we let it hang for a half hour longer, but if you like yours wetter, just cut it into curds while the whey is still dripping from the cheesecloth. So easy, so delicious.
Lidia was on TV while we were settling on our dinner plans. My original thought was to make the ricotta and then use it in a pasta with some carrots and herbs, but no, stupid Lidia just had to do an entire show about polenta. Polenta for breakfast, polenta for lunch, polenta for dinner, polenta for Ann and the Boy. Nothing in the world was as important as having polenta for dinner. Ahh… The power of suggestion.
And lest I let all these curds go to my head, there was one other star to our weekend dinners. Garlic.
A few weeks ago while I was making dinner ‘All Things Considered’ did a piece on the differences between the garlic imported into the U.S. from China and the stuff grown out in California. I’ve always been a bit suspicious about the Chinese garlic labeled ‘Organic’ that seems to be everywhere.
Given China’s recent problems with food exports I have to ask, is it really organic? Is it even safe? It seems to sprout really soon, the flavor never really comes through in recipes. The NPR show gave fuel to my suspicions, so while we were in California I made it my job to find some great Cali garlic.
And boy did I! At the St. Helena farmer’s market. The cloves are plump and stinky, just how I like them, and taste delicious raw in salads. There’s a little heat but none of the acrid, intense bitterness I’ve come to associate from bodega garlic. I can’t wait to do a garlic-off between my favorite upstate New York hard neck and these California soft necks.
I’d also like to take some of that garlic, slice it thinly and make a pizza with the leftover ricotta and a few heirloom tomatoes we have lying around. That would be a really good dinner.
So, if anyone knows anyone else with some extraneous goat’s milk, will you have them contact me?
Until then, I’ll be making my own crème fraiche. And queso fresco. And fromage blanc. And kefir. And buttermilk, and mascarpone and farmer’s cheese. And yes, the next time most of you see me I will have gained 20 pounds.
Never blame the cheese. (Just kidding Mom!)
Head below the jump for the recipes for Lemon Panir, Summer’s Best Salad, Fresh Ricotta and Carrot Bombs.
prep time: 5 minutes ~ cooking time: 20-30 minutes ~ hang time: 1 hour
- 1 qt whole or lowfat milk (the more fat, the more cheese!)
- Juice of 1 Lemons or 6 tbsps Lemon Juice
Pour the milk and lemon juice to a non-reactive pan and heat over medium-low heat to 165°-185°F stirring frequently. The higher temperature should give you more curds. When the milk is to the right temperature, turn off the heat, put on the lid and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
Line a colander with cheesecloth. After 15 minutes pour the curds into the colander. (Save the whey if you want, it’s apparently quite tasty, good for making bread and good for feeding plants).
Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth together and allow the cheese to drain for an hour or until it stops dripping. Turn the cheese out into a bowl and add salt to taste.
To serve: Eat it straight from the bowl, on bread, on salads or in curries. Enjoy!
Summer’s Best Salad
prep time: 30 minutes ~ cooking time: 30 minutes
- 1 lb of Cranberry or other Shell Bean, shelled and cooked for 20-30 minutes and then cooled
- 1 lb of Romano Beans, snapped into small pieces and cooked until just tender, about 7 minutes, and then cooled
- 4-6 cloves of the best Garlic you can find, minced
- 5 ears of Sweet Corn, kernels cut off
- 2 Heirloom Tomatoes cut into bite sized chunks
- Small handful of Bush or Greek Basil leaves
- Salt & Pepper
- Tarragon Vinegar
- Sherry Vinegar
- Lemon Juice
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Lemon Panir
Combine the beans, garlic, corn, tomatoes and basil in a bowl. Season with salt & pepper. Combine the vinegars, lemon juice and olive oil with a wee bit of prepared or dried mustard and whisk into a dressing with your favorite level of acidity. Pour the dressing over the salad, mix to combine and set aside to allow the flavors to develop for at least 30 minutes.
To serve: Give each person a few big spoonfuls in a bowl, top with lemon panir. Dig in and enjoy!
prep time: 5 minutes ~ cooking time: 30-40 minutes ~ hang time: 30-60 minutes
- 1 gallon Whole Milk
- 1 tsp citric acid
- 1 tsp salt
Pour the milk into a large non-reactive pan. Add the citric acid and salt and heat over a medium flame. Stir every now and then to prevent scalding while you bring the milk up to 195°F. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Line a large colander with cheesecloth. When 10 minutes are up gently ladle the curds into the colander. (Save the whey if you want, it’s apparently quite tasty, good for making bread and good for feeding plants).
Tie the four corners together and allow the curds to drain for 30 minutes or longer depending on how you like your ricotta. Turn the cheese into a bowl and break up the curds and season with salt to taste.
To serve: Eat it straight from the bowl or use as is in pasta, polenta or on pizza or sweeten it and eat it for dessert, perhaps over top of some berries?
prep time: 30 minutes ~ cooking time: 20 minutes
- Olive Oil
- 1 Onion, sliced
- 4-6 cloves of the best Garlic, sliced
- 1 lb of Thumbelina Carrots scrubbed and cut into halves or quarters depending on size
- Salt & Pepper
- 1/2 c Dry Vermouth
- 1 tbsp good Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
Heat a healthy glug of olive oil over a medium flame in a large shallow skillet. Add the onions and allow to cook a few minutes until just beginning to wilt. Add the garlic and allow to cook a few minutes more. Add the carrots and toss coat with the onion mixture. Turn the heat up to high. Add the vermouth, vinegar and lemon juice. Cover and allow to cook 5-10 minutes or until the carrots are just becoming tender. Remove the lid and toss the carrots to coat with the glaze. Allow the glaze to cook down a few minutes. Turn the heat off and add fresh or dried thyme to taste.