Making ricotta cheese
Ricotta is a low-fat, spreadable cheese made by reheating the whey once you have removed the curds for pressing into cheese. The word Ricotta is Italian for recooked. While some prefer it mixed with sugar and then spread on bread, others season it with salt and pepper and use it as a savoury spread.
I had tried making ricotta cheese before but had never had much luck. So I decided to look on Internet to see what temperature the whey should be heated to. I discovered that 94ºC – just below boiling point – was the magic temperature.
It is important not to let the whey boil as this will toughen the curds.
Heat the whey on a medium heat to 94ºC. Once it the liquid has reached this temperature, the creamy curds will float to the top of the pan.
Straining the ricotta cheese
Skim off the curds into a piece of muslin. I used a jam bag and stand and a fine-meshed sieve.
How long you leave the cheese to drain for will depend on how firm you want the finished cheese to be. After a couple of hours, the cheese was still quite moist and spreadable. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, added some lemon zest and chives and mixed well and it was delicious.
The colour of the whey changes drastically once the curds have been removed and it almost looks greenish.
A pleita is a long strip of plaited esparto grass which can be used instead of a mould in cheese-making. The band is wound round and round and the end tucked in and the cheese curds pressed down into the middle. It needs to be placed on a wooden board and the finished cheese looks better if the board used below and on top have some sort of carved design which is then embedded into the cheese.
I managed to find one in a shop in Guadix for 12 euros and was quite excited. This is what the neighbour uses and it has the advantage of being able to adapt to any amount of milk for any size of cheese. The only thing you have to be careful of is not letting the curds dry on the pleita as it takes ages to get them off.
This is a picture of the cheese once it has been pressed. As I didn’t have any suitable weights or boards, I pressed it in the fruit press.
I was really pleased with the finished cheese with its design:
Because the first time I had tried using a pleita, the cheese had dried onto it, I didn’t want the same to happen again. So I removed the cheese quite soon from the pleita. As the cheese dried, it lost most of the sharp design and in the future I would probably leave it on for longer before removing.