July 28th, 2012

Ricotta-Making, Spiced Peach Salad and a Review

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A recipe can be deceiving. We’ve all experienced a seemingly daunting one with scrolls of ingredients, only to find that we can whip it up with panache. Conversely, there’s that recipe with, say, three ingredients that you’d think would be a breeze. And yet, it’s those simple ones that can be trickiest–and require practice. Like making pillowy-light gnocchi, or fluffy biscuits. Or creamy ricotta cheese.

I’d been wanting to make ricotta for a long time. Maggie and I researched and learned that it is, essentially, Whole Milk-Salt-Acid. Sometimes the milk is enriched with cream. The acid can be lemon juice, white vinegar or buttermilk, which is added to the milk-salt mixture after it is simmered to 180 degrees.

For our first foray into cheesemaking, we chose vinegar, as it is the most neutral in taste. We purchased a gallon of whole milk at our local Hatcher Dairy Farm.

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Low and slow, the milk came up to a froth at 180 degrees. We added the vinegar, and almost immediately, the curds formed in big clumps, separating from the whey. I scooped them out and let them drain in Maggie’s floursack-lined colander.

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The yield: 4 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey! (We saved the whey, which Maggie has since used in her breadbaking–with astonishing results. The flavors are enhanced Tenfold.)

Shortly thereafter, we spread the cheese onto toast topped with slices of Maggie’s garden tomatoes. The ricotta was a bit firmer than I had expected, but delicious nonetheless. It reminded us more of Paneer, that Indian cheese.

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However, it became almost rubbery in texture, as it cooled. Had we overcooked it somehow?

I decided to experiment again, this time–a smaller batch, with added cream, and lemon juice as the acidifier.

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As luck would have it, I had been asked to review a cookbook scheduled for release next month, JAM ON The Craft of Canning Fruit by Laena McCarthy. McCarthy is the founder of Anarchy in a Jar, making delectable, creative, and wildly popular artisanal jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves.

It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. Moreover, it is clear in guidance for novice and seasoned canners, and replete with fruit recipes in gorgeous combinations.

Tucked among her recipes for Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade, and Rhubarb Hibiscus Jam, I found her recipe for Homemade Ricotta. It was just as I had imagined: a small batch, made with whole milk and cream, salt, lemon juice. A-Ha!

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I followed her recipe, and to my surprise, the result was almost the opposite of our previous trial. Curds were slower to form, tiny in size. McCarthy writes that this can occur with organic milk that has been ultra-homogenized. (I didn’t use my local milk this time, but Organic Valley brand.)

I let my cooked-and-curdled pot sit and cool to allow the curds to better separate. Then, I poured into my cheesecloth lined strainer. It would take some time–about a half hour—for the whey to drain off.

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But what remained was lush ricotta cheese.

I cannot overstate the wonder of its texture and taste–like no other ricotta I have ever had. Rich and smooth, spreadable yet scoopable, as you can see on the spiced peach salad plate.

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HOMEMADE RICOTTA from JAM ON by Laena McCarthy
3 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 t. Sea Salt

3 T. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)

equipment:
non-reactive pan, candy thermometer
cheesecloth or floursack cloth, strainer or colander

In your non-reactive pan set on medium heat, bring milk, cream, and salt to a slow simmer. Stir so that the milk does not scorch or cook on the bottom. The temperature reading should be about 180 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice and reduce heat. Stir for about two minutes while cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

When the mixture is cooled, you’ll notice a thickening. Pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl to catch the whey. Let this drain for about an hour. Place ricotta into a clean container and refrigerate. Makes about one pint. Use within a few days.

There will be about 2 cups of whey, (much better ratio of cheese to whey than our first trial!) which some people discard. But it is terrific in breadbaking and soup making.

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SIMPLE SPICED PEACHES
The Syrup:
1 c. Cider Vinegar
1 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 inch length Cinnamon Stick
Strip of fresh Ginger
2-3 whole Allspice
3-4 whole Cloves
1/2 t. Kosher Salt

3 or more Fresh, Ripe but Firm Peaches–cut in half, pit removed
Bowl of Ice Water

Place all ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan set on medium heat. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Place peaches into mixture and allow to poach for about 4 minutes.
Remove peaches and plunge into ice water. The skins will come off very easily.
Drain peaches and refrigerate.
Continue cooking spiced vinegar solution until reduced by almost half. It will be syrupy.
Pour into a bowl and cool.
Place peach halves into syrup. Over the next several hours, refrigerated, they will absorb more of the sweet-sour taste. If you can wait, and let them soak overnight, they will taste even better!
(You could also make this in large quantities, put spiced peaches and syrup into mason jars and process in a hot water bath to preserve them.)
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SPICED PEACH-RICOTTA SALAD (makes 4 individual salads)
4 oz. Fresh Arugula
4 oz. (or more!) fresh Ricotta
4 Spiced Peach Halves and syrup
handful of Marcona Almonds
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Assemble Salad:
Mound arugula on plates.
Scoop ricotta and place onto plates.
Slice each peach halve and arrange on plate, encircling the ricotta.
Drizzle syrup over the peaches, greens, and ricotta.
Scatter almonds over the salad
Season with black pepper.

Serve with a sliced of toasted crusty bread, if you like.

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Posted in Articles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Recipes, Salads

28 Responses to “Ricotta-Making, Spiced Peach Salad and a Review”
  1. Maggie Says:

    If at first you don’t succeed… I will look forward to trying this recipe, Nancy! As you mentioned, making bread with the left over whey is so good, it will be worth making the ricotta for multiple reasons! The salad sounds delish!

  2. Angie@Angie's Recipes Says:

    A fantastic salad! One day I must try to make my own ricotta too. Love those spiced peaches!

  3. heather Says:

    Ricotta desserts are the best! I’m excited to try your salad. Thank you Nancy.

  4. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    I’m not sure which looks more delicious, your ricotta or your spiced peaches. What a divine combination. I want them both for breakfast.

  5. Barbara Says:

    The ricotta you made above looks like ice cream-beautiful! And relatively easy to make. The entire salad looks so good. Thanks Nance

  6. Teresa, foodonfifth.com Says:

    Nance, this looks perfect for a hot July or August day. I love homemade ricotta. I make it sometimes and it is the best fresh and warm. Your salad with the arugula, peaches spiced & fresh ricotta is just my cup of tea. Once you make ricotta it is hard to ever eat the stuff in the containers isn’t it?

  7. Beth Says:

    Wow! Your ricotta looks sensational! What a treat to make your own cheese.

  8. Eileen Says:

    That first recipe is in fact almost exactly how I make paneer! I’ve never made homemade ricotta, though–now I guess I know which recipe I should try first. The combination with spiced peaches sounds wonderful!

  9. Nic@diningwithastud Says:

    Nothing is better than homemade ricotta! So many options :) love!

  10. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Eileen–that’s good to know. I have since read about the other steps you take to make paneer–interesting stuff.
    Many thanks for sharing.
    I realize that we’re not making True ricotta (which means re-cooked) which takes the whey from mozzarella making, and cooks it again to make ricotta. But this is wonderful and rich.

  11. Barbara Says:

    We can all benefit from your experiments, Nancy! That last ricotta looks fabulous!

  12. Carolyn Says:

    Please Please!! Try again with Hatcher milk and report back. I’m not sure if the difference you experienced was due to the different milk or the different ingredients? I really want to use local milk, but is the expense worth it?

  13. goodfoodmatters Says:

    hi Carolyn–
    It does deserve another try with Hatcher’s, for sure. I think that making it in smaller batches, enriched with cream made the bigger difference. But the first trial was definitely not worth the expense. The second trial—yes.

  14. Christine @ Fresh Says:

    This salad looks superb! I love the contrast of sweet spiced fruitiness and fresh creamy cheese. I’m looking forward to trying homemade ricotta.

  15. gg (gena) loyd Says:

    Nancy, what a great combo!
    My experiences making my own cheese, especially ricotta, have yielded similar results when using organic milk. Most organic milk is taken to temps over 200 degrees because it sits on the shelf longer than the regular stuff. My best batches have come from using cream and your previously mentioned white vinegar. It tends to be more reliable than the lemon juice for some reason.

  16. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi GG—thanks for sharing your ricotta experience. I am curious about others—whole milk w/ buttermilk, for instance. I hope others will leave comments.

    I suspect that my 3 cups whole milk to one cup cream could be amended to 3 1/2 cups to 1/2 cream with good results–maybe slightly less rich. But that’s okay, as this is super-rich!

  17. Cathey Says:

    Nancy, you might want to try J D’s Milk from the Nashville Farmers Market. It is low temp pasteurized.
    I used it and only added 1/2 c. extra cream.

  18. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Cathey—great tip! I wondered about JD’s–and thought that their milk might be a great a choice. many thanks—

  19. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    i can;t believe you made your own ricotta. that is so awesome and seems daunting but i can only imagine how satisfying it was to eat cheese you made by hand! Love seeing recipes from you

  20. Rach Says:

    What isn’t better with some heavy cream! Looks delicious. I have been eating lots of ricotta lately (not home-made I hasten too add) mostly stirred into tomato sauce which doesn’t look that pretty but is very tasty. Poached spiced peaches – lovely lovely lovely.

  21. teresa bentley Says:

    I have been making ricotta for about a year and this is without question the creamiest most unctuous one I have ever tried and will become the gold standard for me. I have used whole milk , and buttermilk and it makes a much more dense large curd and drier. I have used lemon juice too but never in this ratio and added after the milk had come to 180° Every step of this recipe is perfectly defined for us and it is PERFECT. lovely, lovely, lovely and I love this blog. Thanks for stepping it up a notch (or 2)

  22. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    Nancy, this sounds and looks scrumptious. My one foray into ricotta making didn’t go so well, but I might give it another try using your recipe.

  23. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Rach-I will have to stir some of this into tomato sauce soon!

    teresa–you are so kind! I am thrilled that you’ve had this success.

    Michele–like you, my first foray was less than stellar—but this second time was! I encourage you togive it another try.

  24. Juliana Says:

    Amazing Nancy…homemade ricotta and I love the idea of the spiced peaches…they are sure great paired together. Beautiful and so flavorful salad.
    Thanks for the recipes and hope you are enjoying your week :)

  25. Faith Says:

    I’ve been really wanting to try my hand at homemade ricotta and this is just the inspiration I need. It looks amazing, especially with those spiced peaches!

  26. Good Food Says:

    Awesome..can’t wait more to have this yummy meal !!

  27. beti Says:

    Honestly I can’t beliece you made your own ricotta but that salad looks pretty good and I also want to make my own ricotta!



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