Homemade Ricotta, Honey Infused Thyme

Autumn, Savory Recipes • 13 Nov 2012

I stand over a resplendently shiny pot, my arm pleasantly heavy with each repetitive churn. Steam hits my face, opening my pores and nostrils.  The wafting scent of vinegar burns my throat with each moist breath. I recollect the taste of salt, acid and mold that converged on my tongue when I entered the creamery where I once apprenticed.

As the curds and whey gently separate in the pot before me, I take stock of my environment: a small, somewhat claustrophobic kitchen in apartment-studded Brooklyn. I am far from nature; miles from the emerald agrarian landscape and dairy farms that inspire me.

But it feels right to be making ricotta here. Though I feel extremely lucky to have emerged unscathed from the awful hurricane that lashed its fury on my city, it helps heal my saddened heart to delve into something comforting like ricotta, something quotidian like cooking.

Apartment cheesemaking is not a hobby and in fact, I stir my curds and whey apprehensively.  I’ve only ever made ricotta in a professional creamy wearing an oversized powder-white jacket and a slightly sweet, slightly stale smelling rubber apron, a drastic variance from my clean, laundered apron and sweats.  Cooking ricotta at home, with milk rather than the traditional whey, makes me feel tenderfoot, which is silly, especially after having studied under the tutelage of a seasoned cheese maker.

It seems fitting to start my home cheesemaking venture with ricotta.  I want to pay tribute to the ritual I performed repeatedly during the first days of my apprenticeship.  It was one of the first cheeses I learned to make at the farm and fittingly is the first cheese I will make in my own kitchen.

Ricotta making is pretty straightforward and requires only a basic knowledge cheesemaking science. It literally means recooked and derives its name from the process of heating and coagulating leftover whey. To make ricotta heat whey (or milk) to a very specific temperature and introduce an acid until the milk protein solids (curds) separate from the yellow, cloudy whey. Some cheesemakers prefer to use lemon juice to stimulate coagulation, which imparts a delicate citrus flavor on the finished product. Vinegar yields the purest, most consistent ricotta and is a more reliable acid since it has a more invariable pH.

I add a bit of heavy cream to my raw ingredients for a bit of extra lusciousness. You can drain your ricotta a little or a lot, depending on whether you like a creamier or drier cheese.

A sprinkling of good olive oil, sea salt and fresh herbs or some honey and fruit on lightly toasted bread make for wholesome, satisfying breakfasts. Mix with fruit preserves, or fresh fruit, and nestle inside a hearty batch of crepes, or inside a springy omelet.

To showcase my first batch of decadent, velvety ricotta, I infuse local honey with earthy thyme, drizzled lightly on crackly, tender toasts. Piled high with sweet and tart brûléed grapefruit supremes, a bit of baroque honeycomb on the side, fresh thyme sprinkled delicately over the crostini, I cannot think of a more nostalgic snack. My first solo attempt at ricotta is a success. For that, and countless other blessings, I am grateful.

Homemade Ricotta, Honey Infused Thyme

Ricotta:
1 gallon organic milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white vinegar

1. Combine milk, cream and salt in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat.  Don’t let the milk boil and stir frequently to prevent from burning. When the milk reaches 185 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and add the vinegar, stirring gently. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until the curds float to the top and the whey clears.

2. Line a colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth. Gently ladle the curds into the colander, allowing the cheese to drain anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes, until desired wetness is achieved.

3, Remove from colander and gather the cloth tightly around the curds, gently squeezing out remaining whey. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.

Ricotta keeps for about one week.

Yield: Makes about 3 cups, depending on the wetness of the final product.

Thyme Infused Honey:
1/4 cup honey
4 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons water

In a small pot over low heat, whisk together honey and water. Add thyme sprigs and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not let boil. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature. Discard thyme. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Brûléed Grapefruit Supremes:
1 grapefruit
2 tablespoons course sugar

1. Cut off top and bottom of grapefruit and peel off skin with a knife. Make sure the skin and the pith is removed, exposing just the fruit. Using a paring knife or a small sharp knife, slice out the fruit segments along the membrane.

2. Sprinkle supremes with sugar. Using a blowtorch, melt the sugar until it bubbles and a golden crust forms.

Toast assembly:
Pile toast with ricotta and add two to three supremes. Drizzle with honey. Serve with a small square of honeycomb and garnish with extra thyme leaves.

 

5 Responses

  1. Jill

    I really enjoyed this post.  Thanks for sharing.

  2. jane sonders

    This was wonderful.  It is so yummy and I love your presentation.  Beautiful photos – – do you do the photos too? 
    When we lost a bunch of trees in our backyard, one of them split open and there was a big beehive inside.  We took some of the honey which was delicious and minty. 
    Hope all is well . . . I still would like to get us together . . . I have been crazed and then the storm hit . . . I will keep trying.
     
    Best,
     
    -j.

  3. Yes, Jane, we HAVE to get together. And thanks. Yes, I do take all the photos myself. With a point and shoot! Saving up for a nice SLR.

  4. You know, Kate, you should put together a portfolio of you food photos! They are soooooo gorgeous, beautiful, lovely compositions. You are amazing!
     

    • Thanks. 2013 is the year I get a good SLR. And the year I really learn how to photograph. Amazing what I can do with a point and shoot, though!

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