Making Cheese at Home #2 Whey Ricotta
I hate wasting food and one of the first things I noticed about cheese making is that there feels like a lot of waste. A minimum of four litres of milk is required for a mere 550g of cheese and three litres of that is whey, or the watery bit that’s left behind once the solids have been removed. With a bit of research I discovered that you don’t have to waste the whey when you make cheese. Apart from feeding it to the chooks, or using it in bread or as a stock substitute, I found a recipe for whey ricotta. More cheese, hooray!
Whey yields even less ricotta than the milk ricotta, but by some magical powers it is actually creamier and richer, so however small the amount it makes it is definitely worth giving it a go. It is delicious and addictive. I have tried it a couple of times, and the amount of cheese you get seems to vary on every occasion, possibly dependent on what type of cheese you have made in the first place.
So far I have worked out that the fresher the whey, the more ricotta you get and the cheese recipes that contain rennet seem to increase yield. I even read that the size of the pan effects yield, with tall, narrow pans being better than wide, shallow pans, but I haven’t managed to test this theory. I have also found that adding some extra milk, cream, or even buttermilk increases the yield. I have made some successful and not so successful cheeses using buttermilk as the starter culture, so I have been throwing the leftover buttermilk into the whey to increase the yield of the whey ricotta.
I also found a recipe for a Scandinavian whey cheese called Mesost. In theory this stuff seems like a great idea. You gently boil the whey until it caramelises and thickens, easy huh? Sadly not as easy as I thought and I haven’t achieved this one yet. I boiled the first one for hours and it just didn’t thicken, it boiled away to pretty much nothing. This led to the conclusion that you need to use whey from a recipe that contained rennet in order to aid the thickening process. Thinking I had it nailed I proceeded to make a second batch a week later. This one thickened nicely, but I took my eyes off it momentarily and it stuck solid to the bottom of the pan in a black, sticky mess. Four hours of boiling wasted. I may give it a third go, but I am a little hooked on the whey ricotta and I feel the Mesost might be an acquired taste for non-Scandinavians as the tiny spoonful that I managed to rescue from the top of the pan was quite sweet, almost like a toffee.
So what can you do with the whey ricotta? The final product has a much creamier texture than the whole milk ricotta so does not lend itself to quite the same uses. You could add some herbs and use it like a dip; you could spread it on toast with a drizzle of honey (too sweet for me, but friends rave about it); you can dollop it on pasta as you serve it instead of using Parmesan; or you can just eat it with a spoon (my personal preference).
The quantities for the recipe are just a guide and do not have to be exact.
3 litres Fresh Whey
250 ml milk, buttermilk or cream (you can add more than this, I usually add what I have in my fridge at the time. The more you add the greater the yield, but I find it becomes less creamy with the addition of a lot of extra milk)
30 ml apple cider vinegar
non iodised salt, to taste
Add the buttermilk to he whey if you are using it. Gradually bring the whey to 88 degrees Celsius over about 20 minutes. Add the cider vinegar and stir once, quickly. Put a lid on the pan and leave to stand for 15 minutes to allow the curds to form. If you over stir this the curds break up too much and you end up with what I have here, a very fine, delicate curd.
Now I have to confess the first time I made this ricotta, I thought it had failed and binned it. The curds for this ricotta are very fine, and on first glance look non-existent. You cannot drain this cheese as you would others as it is too delicate, but the extra time to lovingly drain is worth the effort when you taste the silky smooth result.
Set the very fine butter muslin in a colander over a bowl. Drain the whey a few ladle fulls at a time, into the muslin, being careful not to over handle the curds. Allow each ladle of whey to drain, before you add the next. Once you have a very liquid curd in the muslin, hang the curds above a bowl to allow the whey to continue to drip away, this should take about an hour. Once the curds have finished dripping you should be left with a heavenly, silky ricotta, good enough to eat!
I have edited this post after getting some advice from Susan at the Cheese Making Workshop. She achieved much stronger curds than me by not stirring the vinegar through the whey. I have also tried it that way, and it worked much better, but my curds have been more delicate at times. It is quite a temperamental process and I haven’t quite mastered the technique but I still think it’s worth the effort for the delicious, creamy ricotta.