There are few cooking accomplishments that have given me a greater sense of pride than the one I conquered last night: making my own cheese. The ironic thing is that it was actually one of the easiest things I have ever done in the kitchen, yet it carries some indefinable mystique, as if it is some special type of culinary alchemy. I imagined a scenario where it would all go wrong, the milk wouldn't curdle, it would horribly scorch, it would transform into a pile of poisonous goo. But none of those things happened, and in the end I was jumping with joy at the perfectly shaped ball of curds that actually looked like real cheese.
I realized as I prepped for my experiment that I had never actually used cheesecloth to make cheese. Why, after years of using it for various other culinary applications, did it only now occur to me that it was called cheesecloth for a reason? I was especially pleased at the pattern the cloth left on the underside, which I felt was the one detail that truly stamped it as actual cheese.
At every step of the process, I was filled with glee when something went right. It was the joy of chemistry class, getting a reaction to work just as it's supposed to.
And of course, a cheese such as this, a great culinary accomplishment, should be enjoyed in as pure a form as possible, and in great quantities.
Excuse my gushing, good cheese really inspires hyperbole. Recipe after the jump:
HOMEMADE RICOTTA CHEESE
2 quarts (1/2 gallon) whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp white vinegar
In a heavy 6-qt stockpot, combine the milk, cream, and salt and slowly bring to a low boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Line a sieve with fine mesh cheesecloth and place in the sink or a large bowl. When the milk reaches a low boil, lower the heat to a simmer and add the vinegar. Stir constantly as the curds form. After about 2 minutes, the milk should be completely curdled. Pour out the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow to drain for 1 hour. Transfer the cheese and chill. Cheese will keep in the refridgerator, covered, for about 3 days.
To serve, I simple broke up some cheese in a small bowl, poured over some extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with salt and fresh pepper, and topped with fresh thyme leaves. Scoop the cheese onto crostini rubbed with garlic for a perfect starter.