When you make cheese yourself, there's nothing in it but wholesome ingredients. No texturizers, flavor "enhancers," or coloring.
Neufchâtel is a basic, creamy cheese that is a mainstay in cooking and is delicious all by itself. It's made from fresh, whole milk with very little rennet and a long curdling time. When fresh it resembles cream cheese, but aging brings out a pungent aroma and a stronger taste so you can use it mild or tangy. The step-by-step method for making homemade cheese follows.
1. Sterilize all utensils and bowls that the milk or cheese will touch. Place a gallon of milk in the top of a double boiler (or similar arrangement) and heat to 84-86°F. Stir in 4 tablespoons of fresh cultured buttermilk.
2. Use half the rennet recommended for a gallon of milk. Dissolve the rennet in two tablespoons cool water and stir half of this solution into the milk. Hold the temperature as close to 85°F as possible for 16-18 hours, the time needed for the milk to coagulate.
3. Place a colander over a deep pot and line with muslin—ordinary cheesecloth is too coarse for the runny curd. The muslin should be boiled previously for 5 minutes. When the milk is coagulated, pour the curds and whey into the colander and allow it to drain for 2 hours. Tie the corners of the muslin together so the curds can't leak out.
4. Surround the bag of curd with ice until thoroughly chilled.
5. Place the chilled curd on a board and put another board on top of it. Place two bricks on top for weight. Set the whole thing in a cake pan and place in the refrigerator for 8 hours.
6. Remove the curd from the bag into a mixing bowl. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt and knead it into the curd with your hands, breaking up any large lumps.
7. Here's an easy cheese press you can make. It should be sterilized before use. It consists of a can with both ends cleanly off, and two wooden discs that just fit the can, each with several holes for whey to escape.
8. Cut two muslin squares an inch larger than the wooden discs. Place a disc on a wire rack, cover with one piece of muslin, and press the can down over them. The edges of the muslin should be hanging out. Spoon the salted curd into the press and cover with the other piece of muslin. Place the second disc in to the press and firmly press down. Sit a sturdy jar in the top end, place a brick on top and put the whole arrangement in a cake pan to catch drippings. Place in refrigerator for 48 hours.
9. Pry out the lower disc, peel off the cloth, and push the cheese from the other end.
10. Rub salt lightly on the outside of the cheese and allow to dry at room temperature for 24 hours. Then eat fresh or place in your refrigerator for 3 or 4 weeks, or until you like the flavor. Trim any mold that might develop. This cheese needs refrigeration.
Find rennet and other cheese-making supplies at cheesemaking.com.
Ricotta is a unique fresh cheese that can be used as whipped cream or cream cheese, yet is low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, low-fat, and high in protein.
Ricotta means "cooked once again" and is literally just that. The economical Italian country wife looked for a use for the whey left over from making her famous hard cheeses and found that with high heat and acid she could precipitate the albumin (protein) in the whey and thereby obtain a delicious fresh cheese. Other cheese-producing countries have created similar types of whey cheese, such as the Swiss hudelziger and mascarpone, the latter from goat's-milk whey; and the French gran de montagne, made from whey and enriched with cream. Other exotic names for ricotta-type cheese include recuit, broccio, brocette, serac, ceracee, and mejette.
Ricotta is most often sold fresh. It is rather sweet (as opposed to the slightly tangy flavor of cottage cheese) and creamy, and melts beautifully without separating in baked dishes such as Italy's famous lasagna.
A less well-known product is dried ricotta, available only in specialized cheese shops or your own home dairy. This is a piquant grating cheese and does not require the refrigeration mandatory for fresh ricotta. So if you make too much to consume within a few days, you can press and dry it.
Old World Ricotta
To prepare Old World ricotta, you need whey. This is the nutritious liquid left over from curdled milk when you have removed the curd. It contains the water-soluble proteins, vitamins, and minerals in the milk, such as the soluble calcium. Most people do not realize that one-third of the calcium in milk is left in the whey in the cheese-making process, even more when the cheese is made by the acid-coagulation method such as in the tangy, small-curd cottage cheese, rather than the rennet method. Liquid whey also contains most of the milk sugar. However, in the finished ricotta cheese only 3 percent lactose remains, so those on a low-carbohydrate diet can enjoy it also.
You will need at least 2 to 3 gallons of whey plus a few cups of whole milk to make one pound of ricotta cheese. This is a lot of whey and not very practical for home cheese-making, especially if you must collect the whey from the milk of one or two goats. If you do have the whey, however, here is how to prepare it:
Old World Ricotta
Yield: about 1 pound
2 1/2 gallons liquid whey
1 pint whole fresh milk
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
Heat the whey until the cream rises to the surface. Add the fresh milk and continue heating to just below the boiling point (about 200°F). Stir in the vinegar and remove immediately from the heat. Dip out the coagulated albumin (milk protein) and drain. Salt if desired.
New World Ricotta
Modern ricotta, developed in the early 19th century, is made from whole milk and is simple and delicious prepared at home. It is also the method used by most big commercial American dairies. Whole or part-skim milk is acidified to a carefully controlled level, then subjected to high temperatures. Although most of us do not have equipment for measuring or controlling pH and heat, the following method works very well. Since the big companies do not divulge their recipes, I devised this one by careful label-reading plus trial-and-error.
New World Ricotta
Yield: about 1 cup
These easy-to-handle proportions are adaptable to small-quantity cheese-making. Dried whey is available in health-food stores and is well known for its beneficial action on friendly intestinal flora. This is one of the reasons ricotta is such a highly digestible food. Dried whey contains about 13 percent protein, has 5 times the calcium of liquid milk, and is a good source of riboflavin and iron.
1 quart homogenized whole or partially skimmed milk (fresh and just milked is best but powdered skim can also be used)
1/4 cup dried whey powder
1/8 cup liquid buttermilk (2 tablespoons)
Stir the whey powder into the milk with a whisk and dissolve well. Stir in the buttermilk. Cover the bowl with waxed paper or place in cold oven to incubate for 24 hours. Then transfer to a saucepan and very slowly bring to scalding (200°F). It will separate into curds and whey. Gently drain through cheesecloth; hang to drip a few hours. Salt to taste if desired. Store fresh ricotta in moisture-proof containers, well closed, in the refrigerator.
It will keep about 4 days, maximum, especially unsalted. Milk can be added to the finished ricotta if you like it moister. To dry your cheese for grating, press it heavily in perforated forms, salt it on the surface, and dry in a curing room where the temperature is 100°F or a bit higher. Otherwise, enjoy your fresh ricotta, as is, unadorned, by the spoonful, or in any of your favorite recipes.