That' salata Love!

In a previous life working as a restaurant manger, a couple once (okay, it happened more than once - though not with the same couple) sent back their soup because it was too salty. Very graciously, the young woman declared that the Chef must be in love. There I stood with a perplexed look, not sure what to say, when she continued, "We have a saying: A Chef who cooks with too much salt is a Chef in love." Ahh, the French.

As for me, I have a love for cheese; an over-salted, pungent love.

Let's talk ricotta. Ricotta is a natural by-product of cheese making; it is made from the whey. What is whey? When you add culture to milk, it acts on the proteins in milk separating it into curds - the solids that will later become cheese, and whey - a cloudy yellowish liquid. Interestingly enough, the word ricotta translates as "recooked." (Ah-hah!)

Now, I have used whey in bread and pizza dough, and nearly every time I've made cheese, I've tried making ricotta from straight whey. And while the recipe promises 1/2 pound of ricotta, so far I've been lucky to yield a tablespoon. It's the best damn tablespoon of ricotta I've ever tasted, but are you kidding me? Surely it should make more than a spoonful!

Well, I gave up on this whey stuff. It's still something I use for baked goods, but for ricotta it seems you're just better off going whole milk, especially if you would like to share your efforts, as a tablespoon only goes so far. So I decided to take this one step further and make ricotta salata, or salted ricotta. This cheese is simply fresh ricotta that is salted, dried and aged.

Fresh ricotta itself is relatively easy to make (see below). All you need is milk and citric acid (and a pot to cook it in, cheesecloth, etc.) which you can find online very easily if you don't live near a shop catering to brewing and vinification (wine making). For ricotta salata, the drained curds are lightly pressed for about 12 hours before moving on to the drying stage. In this last stage, which can last anywhere from 2-4 weeks, the surface of the cheese is lightly rubbed with salt in the first week.

And then there's my version. I decided to age this ricotta in my cheese fridge. I've told you about this contraption, haven't I? Well, I have a little dorm fridge that I keep at approximately 55 degrees - a temperature that will support the aging of cheese better than the colder temperature of an everyday fridge. And in this cheese cave (if you will) at the time I had a variety of things going on in there, one of them being mold. Yes, I was trying to do some mold-ripened cheeses at the same time. (You haven't heard about those because I quickly turned them into little hockey pucks that went straight into the round file.) My recipe for ricotta salata said nothing about keeping this particular cheese in the warmer environment of my cave, but I thought it would be a grand, really add to the flavor of my cheese. But what my recipe did say was that if unwanted mold appeared on the cheese (as it did, often, due to the mold-ripened cheeses it was sharing space with) to rub it off with cheesecloth dipped in salt water, or if it became soft with moisture to towel it off and rub the surface with salt again.

I rubbed this dear thing with salt for not only the first week, but several times again over the three after that. I was so excited to try it. It aged for a month, and I babied it. It was loved. It was gross.
It was SOO salty. And it had this slightly off, ripened in the wrong way, flavor. Hmm...why not put it in pasta?! It's perfect for pasta! I'll make sauce without any added salt, I'll boil pasta in unsalted water. There are probably reasons why no one espouses ways to compensate for severely over-seasoning things, because you can't (do understand the operative word here is severe), but I tried nonetheless.

The pasta was good, I salted the water. I can't make pasta without salting the water. Then I made a sauce with stuff I had around the house: canned tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, and garlic. Add a little garnish of the saltiest cheese you'll ever have, eh, not so bad.

Will I do this again? Yes. Will I do it differently? You bet. I'll keep you posted.

Whole Milk Ricotta
adapted from Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll

1 Gal Whole Milk (not ultrapasteurized)
1 tsp Citric Acid (dissolved in 1/4 c. cool water)
1 tsp Kosher Salt (optional)

1 large non-reactive pot, preferably stainless steel, glass or enameled
1 instant read thermometer (you can find this in any cooking store, some markets, and online)
1 colander
1 bowl (to go under the colander)
3 sq. ft. (more or less) butter muslin or fine cheesecloth

1. Combine the milk, citric acid solution, and salt (optional).

2. Heat the milk to 185-195 degrees (F) but do not boil. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.

3. As soon as the curds separate from the whey (be sure this whey is a clear yellow, not a cloudy white), turn off the heat and allow the pot to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.

4. Line a colander with clean butter muslin (rinsed in cold water), and carefully ladle the curds into the colander. Tie the corners of the muslin together in a knot and hang the bag of curds for 20-30 minutes depending on the consistency you are looking for. You're done! Enjoy! (It keeps in the refrigerator, covered, for 1-2 weeks.)

*Though twine is not necessary, I found it to be easier to tie up a muslin bag with twine. After tying the corners of the muslin bag together, forming a knot, I tie a long strand of twine around that knot and use the twine to hang the bag from a cabinet handle - it is far less messy than looping wet, milky cheesecloth over my kitchen furniture (as that is my only option). A word of advice if you try this method...be sure you have strong twine. And, as a protective measure, I keep a colander over a catch-bowl under the cheese; that way, if the twine should break, the bag of curds does not go plunging back into the liquid that just drained from it. (Of course, this, I learned the hard way.)


FoodieNH said...

Please post the recipe for Ricotta Salata cheese.
Thank You.

Jasmine said...

Hi Foodie,

I decided against posting the Ricotta Salata recipe because it didn't turn out very well (too salty), and therefore couldn't speak to how to do it properly. I'd be happy to give you the information you're looking for through email... jasminechz at gmail dot com.