Making ricotta cheese

I woke early, eager to get on with the ricotta, after yesterday’s cheesemaking adventures! Waylaid rather, by lack of bread, beer, tomatoes – and, it transpires, a whole rucksack of provisions that then had to be yomped uphill in a rucksack – and then further waylaid by the good coffee at Galindo’s and toasted bread soaked in olive oil and rubbed with large juicy garlics and tomato – we didn’t get back to the casita till nearly mid day.   Then we had to round up the dogs, which knew instinctively that Kalyani had returned to the UK this morning, and thus had gone walkabout. Except the mastiff. He knew that squirming through the hole in the fence and prancing around in the street looking happy and making an exhibition of himself, sniffing everything that moved was beneath himimage imageSo he stayed asleep under the trees, barely lifting an eyebrow. 

And so, to the 4 litres of whey left over from yesterday. Into a large cauldron, bring slowly to the boil and then boil for 10 minutes, stirring all the time.  The whey has a very pleasant slightly acetic tang. And it looks so unpromising. How can solids come from liquid?

My propensity for hoarding came into its own when I found myself, before we left home,  unearthing a nappy muslin from the depths of the airing cupboard without a second thought. It last saw the light of day when it was wrapped  around Anna’s bottom 34 years ago. Amazing what memories lurk in the depths of this brain of mine. Now, bleached and sheer, and white as the driven snow, and draped over an arcane lime green plastic colander in a casita way up a mountain in Spain, it receives the liquid whey. With a sigh, I find myself muttering with pleasure at the simplicity of it all.  WTF? What is that splashing noise? Why are my legs dripping? Ah yes. Forgot to put a container under the colander. Spot the deliberate mistake….. Having mopped the floor, and washed my hands,  decided that probably a shower was a better idea, so I didn’t walk round for the rest of the day with an aroma of baby sick about my person.

Whilst for the draining process to conclude, I started to think about how I would use the ricotta. So I sliced and fried some aubergine in olive oil and chopped chilli’s then drained them.  In fact, I had previously poached some citrus peel in the pan (see another post for this) and a scant amount of the syrup was still in the pan when I added the oil. Not only did this help caramelise the aubergines, it also sorely tested the smoke alarm. Many times. Enough! Finally the ricotta stopped dripping, and there was about 250g of ricotta nesting in the muslin. And about 3 litres of whey to be used tomorrow to make hallumi.

The final dish will be warm caramelised (!) aubergine on a bed of herby black and red tomatoes, topped with ricotta dotted with more herbs, lemon zest and drizzled with olive oil. And fresh bread. And lettuce and chicory salad.

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Cheesemaking in Las Alpujarras

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We had only been here four days and I was up to my armpits in whey. Four days recovery time and then I was ready for another adventure. We return to Las Alpujarras – and the area around Orgiva – every year. Call us sad. But we know a good place when we see it! It is also a place that attracts paradox. My friend Carrie and I only seem to be able to meet up here. Even though we both live in the UK. She told me about it and we booked the same day.  And what a happy day it was.  Hot, companionable, humorous. Of the four people on the cheesemaking course run by Sue Halfyard and Tracey Rose (Rosie), one was an artist and the author of a book Carrie had just finished reading the night before – Meg Robinson. One of the cheesemakers, Rosie, is a musician who teaches piano online – a good contact for Alistair. And then there was the magnificent smallholding full of tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, every kind of bean and squash, salad crop and fruit.  The smallholding element was just sheer wonderment.

So. First buy 55 litres of fresh unpastuerised goatsmilk from your local goatherd. Heat it to 32C and add rennet. Leave for 50 minutes whilst you consume home made lemonade, walnut and maple flatbread and delicious samples of cheese in the coolest of courtyards, shaded by vines. Then return with your compadres (Carrie, Carol from Florida and Meg from her tiny village with 69 inhabitants (equalled only the number of dogs, apparently)) to cut the curds contained in buckets, or what you or I would be using to shift leaves, weeds or in my case, used chicken bedding.  Note to self………… Do not need 55litres of goats milk at home, therefore, only need smaller bowls.

Then strain the curds and keep the whey.  Press curds into cheese moulds. Retire to aforementioned courtyard for a long lunch prepared by Rosie (musician, smallholder, seed collector, cheesemaker, cook). All I can say is the risotto with tiny tomatoes and courgettes and studded with soft fresh cheese was superb. The pizzas served with the most beautiful salad were to die foe. But the pudding – a baked ricotta cheesecake with chocolate ganache and blackberries was by far the best thing I have ever tasted. That and the home made lemon vodka licquer that followed.  After an hour or two we merrily returned to our cheeses, released them from their moulds and salted them and packed them into their going home boxes. The cheese can be eaten right now, or dried in the fridge for a few weeks then coated in oil.

We returned home with our prize cheeses and 4litres of whey with which to make ricotta. And from they whey following the ricotta making, follows halloumi. And after that the remaining whey makes great plant food. Or you can bathe in it if you wish.

Thus ended my first cheesemaking adventure. More tales tomorrow about ricotta and suchlike.  At the moment do not appear to be able to post pictures. They will appear later.

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POSTSCRIPT.

Since posting this over two and a half years ago, sadly Carrie died in November this year.  Our annual trips to Las Alpujarra will now be tinged with sadness, remembering her beautiful soul, her kind voice, her wisdom and the love for this particular region of Spain that we both shared.  Whilst there, we would sit for hours at La Cueva de la Luna looking out over the mountains, sometimes finding we had been talking for four or five hours and the food was cold on the plate. Or we would walk in the mountains, or swim, or sit in silence as the night fell and the stars, one by one, appeared in the velvet sky.  Carrie was a woman of deep compassion and constantly thought about the world, her family and her friends. She was a loyal friend and a good woman. The ceremony marking her death at Sharpham Trust last week was the most uplifting and moving experiences, perfectly pitched and sensitively drawn. Carrie was there, enclosed in her beautiful felted wool coverlet, laced with twigs and leaves and flowers. And she felt present in spirit.  So carefully wrought was the ceremony you felt you could almost turn and see her disappearing round a corner.  Remembered with love. Rest in peace mi querido amigo. Besos.