Thursday, 3 July 2008

Easy peasy lemon cheesy

I tried three more shops to get citric acid without any success. In the end I went to the market and got lemons, 7 for £1. At one shop (the local Boots the Chemist, and I know they used to sell citric acid as many years ago I worked for Boots as a dispenser) they said they didn’t stock it any more as people were buying it and using it for the wrong things. I wasn’t sure what those things could be, but as usual Wikipedia had the answer. Golly gosh. Hope no-one thought I wanted it for that reason! Anyway I have my lemons now and if the cheesemaking works out and I want to do it regularly I can always get citric acid online from a homebrew supplier. At least no-one looked at me strangely when I bought seven lemons.

I tried the simpler recipe first, it is called superquick ricotta, and the online recipe stipulates 1 gallon milk, 1 tsp citric acid dissolved in ¼ cup cool water and 1 tsp cheese salt which is optional. In my version I estimated I would need 5 teaspoons of lemon juice for a quarter of that quantity. I started by zesting two lemons and squeezing all the juice. (I had other uses for the zest and excess juice) I poured 1 litre of skim milk into a pan, and whisked in two tablespoons of skim milk powder to give it more body. I then added 5 tsps lemon juice, put the meat thermometer in place, (I thought I would have to hold it but it propped quite neatly against the handle of the pan) and started to heat the mixture gently stirring with a plastic paddle so it wouldn’t burn. I watched as the temperature rose gradually to the required level according to the recipe (185-195F). Hmm – at 195F I had a nice pan of lemony milk. I added some more juice, about another teaspoonful, and hey presto the mixture broke into curds and whey. I turned off the heat. The mixture has to sit for ten minutes and this gave me time to cut a square of butter muslin and line a strainer over a colander. Ten minutes later I ladled the curds and whey into the muslin. It didn’t take long to drain and I stirred in a quarter of a teaspoon of low salt seasoning. It is supposed to drain for something like 30 to 45 minutes but I found it didn’t take as long, I suppose it is all a matter of the texture you want and I was looking for a soft cheese. The recipe says that if you want a firm cheese you can tie up the cloth into a bag and hang it from a hook.

This idea brought back hugely nostalgic memories, of when I was a small child and my mother bought unpasteurised milk and let it sour naturally in a big bowl. Sometimes she would tie it in a cloth and hang the cloth from the kitchen taps. When I was in my teens I remember some student friends deliberately allowing their bottled pasteurised milk to sour and then eating the curds out of sheer nostalgia for their mothers’ homemade soured milk. I did explain the difference between naturally soured raw milk and milk that has simply gone off, but they didn’t want to know.

But I digress.

I have chilled the cheese in the fridge and it is fairly dry and crumbly (perhaps it would be moister if I only heated it to 185F?) but with a good very fresh taste, different enough from the products I can buy to make me want to make this again. The faint tang of lemon is rather good! I found I could make it a bit moister by adding a little skim milk. It would be heavenly with sliced strawberries. I might try using it with eggwhites to make a cheesecake.

Oh – and the extra zest and juice? I simmered them gently for about 15 minutes until the zest was soft, topping up with a little water when necessary. I then cooled the mixture and used it with a few drops of culinary lemon oil, as a flavouring for ice milk. But that’s another story.