Recently I jumped on the “make it from scratch” bandwagon and started making my own ricotta cheese. When I first set out to try making my first batch of homemade cheese I conjured up images of my own mother stirring vats of hot milk during her own cheese making phase. I wasn’t sure I was up for the task but quickly found that by using a DIY kit from Williams Sonoma, the entire process was so simple it now feels foolish to buy the cheese in the store. Since it is the main ingredient, it is important to use a good quality milk. If you don’t like the taste of the milk when you drink it, you won’t like the way the your end product tastes. Here in Albania I like the whole organic milk from Natyral Farms but any non-ultra pasteurized milk will work.
Of course, once you have your own cheese you need to find ways to use it. I’ve substituted ricotta in my traditional cheesecake, made ricotta pancakes, and even eaten it plain. When I was looking for a more interesting use for the cheese, and a fancier presentation for an appetizer, I found inspiration in The Cheese Course by Janet Fletcher. This book is filled with interesting and innovative recipes using all types of cheese and brings together flavor combinations I would not have otherwise considered. (It also makes me a bit sad since so many of the wonderful cheeses mentioned in the book simply aren’t available here). This combination of ricotta, honey, and walnuts makes for an attractive presentation whose flavor combinations take guests by surprise. I served my cheese as a single dish on a buffet table but the cheese could easily be divided onto individual plates and served as a first course.
FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE (courtesy of Williams Sonoma)
1/2 cup cool, distilled water
1 teaspoon citric acid
1 gallon whole milk
1 teaspoon cheese salt, or to taste
Pour the water into a small bowl and stir in the citric acid.
Pour the milk into a large pot, add the citric acid solution and cheese salt and stir well.
FRESH RICOTTA WITH VANILLA INFUSED HONEY & WALNUTS
1/2 cup honey
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup whole toasted walnuts
2 cups fresh ricotta
- Place the honey in a small saucepan.
- Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the honey. Stir to combine.
- Heat the honey mixture of over medium-low heat until the mixture is syrupy.
- Meanwhile, shape the ricotta onto a serving platter, or four individual plates, and shape into a small mound.
- Immediately before serving add the walnuts to the honey mixture and gently stir to combine making sure the nuts are well coated.
- Pour the honey nut mixture over the ricotta and serve immediately.