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The Inevitable

28 Aug

You knew this day was coming.

No, no. Sorry to disappoint some of you. I didn’t buy a sausage maker.

Lily Building, 18th Street

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!

Fresh Lemon Panir

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).

Star Building, Second Avenue, Brooklyn

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.

Lacquer, Second Avenue, Brooklyn

Homemade panir curdled with lemon on the other hand? Delightful!

Fresh Lemon Panir

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.

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.

Fresh, Homemade Ricotta

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.

Homemade Ricotta, Glazed Carrots, Polenta

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.

New York Dock Co. Imlay St. Red Hook

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.

Fairway, Red Hook

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.

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