O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.
Sometimes you just want some cheese. Something soft, creamy, light-hearted. Nothing too heavy or stinky. Some days call for ricotta cheese.
On one of these days, I made goat ricotta cheese – strictly speaking goat curds: goat milk, lemon juice, cooked over the stovetop until curds separate from whey. As this might have been done for centuries and centuries by farmers and shepherds.
Then, I made whipped ricotta / curd. A cup of ricotta / curd, a good dollop of cream cheese, a drop of milk, a good beating with a wooden spoon (you can also do this in the stand mixer), and we had this.
A bowl of this stuff went with crusty bread. Another dollop was used to stuff some dates. I barely needed dinner!
Whipped ricotta recipes abound on the interwebs. Some mix the ricotta with milk, others with cream cheese (as I did), some add sugar for a sweet topping, others add sea salt or salty feta cheese. As for serving and eating, many recipes suggest pairing it with crepes and pikelets, others also suggest serving with meatballs (!), or using it to make icing for cupcakes (maybe whipped ricotta icing for sunny-lemony ricotta cookies?)
O cheeses of gravity, cheeses of wistfulness, cheeses
that weep continually because they know they will die.
O cheeses of victory, cheeses wise in defeat, cheeses
fat as a cushion, lolling in bed until noon.
While it seems too simple for a recipe, I’m adding it to Fromage Homage’s Cheese Please challenge (which was to make our own cheese and turn it into something else edible). Since this bowl and these dates are pretty happy-making, so I’m also taking them to Angie’s Fiesta Friday.
As for the poem? They are excerpts from “O Cheese” by American poet Donald Hall. My favourite line from the poem is this:
O village of cheeses, I make you this poem of cheeses.
Note on names: as many people have said, technically, this is what is known as curd (or cagliata in Italian). Real ricotta is made by heating the whey (the liquid) left over from making cheeses that use starter cultures or rennet – the name ricotta means ‘re-cooked’. And if you drain the curds overnight under a weight (like a plate that has a couple of cans of tomatoes on it), you’ll get a firmer cheese that is variously called panner, queso fresco, farmer’s cheese, or ricotta salata (which is also salted).
A veritable village of cheeses!
Ricotta, or curd
Ingredients, with options
1 Litre milk (full cream, or 2% fat; cow, sheet, goat, even buffalo milk?)
Optional: up to 1 cup (approximately 250ml) heavy / double cream, for extra creaminess
Juice of one lemon, or a light coloured and mild flavoured vinegar, such as white vinegar, rice vinegar (the clear variety), champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. If using cream, mix together milk and cream in a large saucepan. Heat on a stove until nearly boiling.
2. Add the lemon juice or vinegar. Reduce heat a little and let the milk mixture cook until you see white chunks (that’s the curd) bobbing in the water (that’s the whey). Let the mixture cook for another 5-10 minutes.
3. Drain the curds. This can be done by lining a colander with cheesecloth, and pouring in the cooked curds and whey. Once the curd has drained somewhat, the cheesecloth can be hung over the sink or a bowl to drain further.
1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups ricotta/curd, well drained
Up to 2 tbsp milk
Serving: Olive oil and sea salt; dates and pistachios
Break up cream cheese with a fork. Using a wooden spoon or in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, mix or beat cream cheese until smooth and pliable. Add ricotta; also add milk if your ricotta / curd has been well drained and is quite firm (mine was still quite soft, so I only added 1 tablespoon of milk).
Beat the mixture for 4 to 5 minutes or until it is smooth and looks more fluffy.
If serving as is, place in a bowl, sprinkle with coarse salt and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with toasted bread. I think this would also go well with fritters, savoury pancakes and so on.
If serving in dates, de-seed the dates. Place small spoonfuls of whipped ricotta inside the cavity of each date, sprinkle with chopped pistachios and serve.