A friend texted me this: did I want a lot of milk and light cream? There was a bunch leftover from an event the other day. Never one to hesitate in these situations, I was suddenly the owner of 4 quarts of organic milk and a case of light cream. I was in a hurry when I stopped by to pick it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the milk and cream were all ultra-pastuerized. Bummer, I thought. It was also some weird Omega 3 milk. Why do they have to add stuff to it? Please don’t put fish oil in my milk. And light cream on it’s own is so useless–it’s basically coffee creamer. These were all good for baking, it’s true, but I had hoped to make a large batch of fresh cheese and yogurt. Then I thought: why not experiment? It’s all free, right?
After a little research, I realized that although a lot of people nix the use of ultra-pasteurized milk in cultured dairy products, there are also lots of folks who say it’s not a big deal. Generally, I don’t buy anything ultra-pastuerized, which is, by the way, milk brought up to temperatures of 280 degrees then chilled quickly–basically dead milk that can last on the shelf a long time (more in depth discussion here). There is so much information out there on the inter webs, it can get dizzying when people are shouting different theories. Basically, as in all of life, there are some things that you just have to find out for yourself.
Speaking of finding out for yourself, it’s also important not to be fooled by simple recipes. Even (fool proof!) ricotta recipes vary in many slightly different ways. When do you add salt? Do you like lemon, vinegar or citric acid to curdle the milk? For a change, I used this recipe from New England Cheesemaking Supply, which varied slightly from my regular recipe in that it added the acid and salt before bringing to temperature. By the way, there are two ways to make what we call ricotta: the true one made with whey, and the fresh cheese I made, which you could also call farmer’s cheese (Is there a difference? Should we all be calling these fool-proof ricotta recipes farmers cheese recipes?). So many questions! I hope I’m not boring you.
I used two half-gallons of milk, and two pints of light cream, and here I used citric acid (whereas I’ve usually used vinegar or lemon in the past). It came out beautifully. Maybe the best ricotta I’ve made. The higher fat content of the cream helps, I will guess. Always a bonus, there’s more than a half-gallon of whey to enjoy. Last night I used it in a great soup–beef pasta and chard. It was one of those soups you are wary about–will this be good? It was amazing, due to all the rich things I put in it, not least of which was the whey. If you use your whey, what do you use it for? I use it mostly in bread baking and soups.
As the clock was ticking for this milk and cream, I also made a big batch of yogurt. There must be five million posts on how to make yogurt, including some of my own. I loved reading this one I stumbled upon, in which this jeweler describes all the ways he makes yogurt that would make purists shout. He knows he’s flying in the face of convention, and doesn’t care, okay? I love that. It’s really all about what works for you, don’t you agree? This time I only brought the temperature of the milk to 160 instead of the oft-quoted temperature of 180ish. I’ve tried this before, but it didn’t come out right. But who’s to say what the reason was? It wasn’t a scientific experiment. This time it worked perfectly. Was it because I used cream? Or milk powder? I find that both of these add a lot of heft to my yogurt.
My recipe was this: two half-gallons of whole milk, two pints of light cream, and one 7-ounce container of Fagé yogurt, full fat (which is always hard to find, for goodness sakes). For four quarts of that mixture, I used the old cooler technique to incubate (in which you put the full inoculated jars into a cooler filled with warm water) but for the rest I tried something new, again, and used my slow cooker. This is a widely discussed method that I’ve never used because why mess with a system that works? For the sake of experimentation, I went for it. I found that for large amounts of yogurt it’s very helpful, especially if you intend to strain the yogurt. Why bother with jars if you are going to scrape it all out any way? I didn’t have the time to do the whole process in the cooker, so I heated and cooled my milk, then inoculated, then poured it into a already warm cooker that had been turned off. I wrapped it in an insulated bag and put it down by the wood stove. There are always odd things like this around my house: vinegars with blobby mothers wrapped in towels, slow cookers in inverted insulation bags by the fire. Does your house look like this too?
So go ahead, do something someone told you not to do! Experiment a little! Everyone knows that mistakes makes discoveries, and you may like what you find.