cheesy dreamy

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There was some protest to the photograph I chose to lead my last post with, so this begins with a picture unarguably adorable. Looking at pictures of cows, being around cows, listening to cows moo, these things all make me indescribably happy. So you can imagine the state I was in the other week when I went to visit Hawthorne Valley Farm with Zoe. (We also took a visit to Zoe’s new home and I got a preview of her awesome new digs!) I was doing research for a piece I’m just finishing on the raw milk movement in New York City. Hawthorne Valley Farm, at 2 and a half hours away (if you don’t get lost, but that’s a different story), is the closest place for New Yorkers to legally buy raw milk. A lot of raw milk is delivered from various upstate farms into the city through the ‘raw milk black market’ (not making this up) but in the State of New York, the only way to legally purchase it is buying straight from the 20 or so farms with a milk permit.

There are a lot of legal issues, heated emotions, debatable health risks and debatable health benefits behind raw milk. After speaking to many, many people on the issue, I’ve come to something of a conclusion. I believe you take a risk drinking raw milk comparable to the risk you take eating ground beef from the supermarket. As long as the farm your milk is coming from is clean, small, and humane, the milk you’ll get is going to be good. It’s a great way to support local dairy farms, as milk is one of the few real money makers left for smaller farms. And, raw milk just tastes incredible. After you’ve tried it, ultra-pasteurization seems like a criminal thing: milk is not supposed to be watery and bland! It’s just not, and that’s that. And oh yeah, raw milk makes awesome cheese.

We toted two half-gallons of raw milk from the farm (see below) after a very, very long car trip home, and as we were walking to the subway, one of the bag handles holding the milk broke. Because I had already opened one half-gallon to drink it straight from the bottle in the car, the cap popped off after the bag broke. It was a raw milk explosion. Basically, it ended with me on my knees, my hands covered and dripping with milk, screaming to passerbys: “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! THIS MILK IS RAW!!!!” No one knew what I was talking about. A nearby homeless man said to me, “That milk is spilt, girl! You spilt that milk GOOD!” Needless to say, that story sums up how I felt about this milk.

I mean, just look at the place where it came from:

We were able to save about half of the spilt milk, and I took to drinking it with every meal, out of a wine glass. This is reminiscent of the first time I tried raw milk, at Claire’s dad’s farm in Pownal, Vermont. That milk was awesome, and we drank it out of shot glasses.  We nicknamed that weekend REAL WORLD : POWNAL.

We knew we wouldn’t be able to finish the second half gallon before it spoiled (even if grocers could sell raw milk, they most likely wouldn’t due to the extremely short shelf life. The Whole Foods in California just stopped selling.) So we decided to make some cheese! I found this ricotta recipe from the lovely Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini and it looked really easy. I stopped into Park Slope’s Brooklyn Larder where the man I talked to was kind enough to donate us some cheese cloth. (PS: Stop over there sometime for the. best. gelato. ever.) And then we were set.

homemade ricotta

1 quart whole milk (best and freshest possible)
1 cup buttermilk

Set up a colander with five layers of cheese cloth. Look how pretty it is.

Pour the milk and the buttermilk in a nonreactive sauce pan, one with a thick bottom. Heat the milk under medium-high and scrape the bottom of the pan regularly with a rubber spatula as it heats up. When the milk starts steaming, stop scraping. The milk gets cloudy and then little cheese curds pop to the surface! Gently scrap the bottom of the plan to let any stuck curds be free.

When the curds form a thick layer that has separated from the whey (right above) and your mixture has reached 175 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and, using a ladle or slotted spoon, very gently move the curds into your colander. Let the curds drain for 5 minutes. Gather the sides of the cheese cloth into a little purse and twist to drain them further, without putting pressure on the curds. Let drain another 15 minutes, and then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Yield is about 1 cup of cheese.

Notes: I think we let our milk get a little too hot, because the consistency was somewhere between ricotta and mozzarella. So keep a good watch on the temperature. I also just did a buttermilk substitute (one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and the raw milk, equaling in total one cup) and while I thought I could taste the apple cider vinegar, Zoe didn’t feel like she could. To try it again, I think I would just buy some good quality buttermilk.

Overall, I liked it a lot! Who knew it was so easy to make cheese?

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