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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Say Cheese

I've had a hankering to make fresh ricotta cheese. Not authentic ricotta cheese made by recooking leftover scalded  whey, but a cozier version made by adding a form of acid to heated whole milk. Fresh. Light. Creamy. 

Last Saturday, Michael and I joined dear friends at a lovely hilltop home out in the countryside to celebrate a few of their Polish culinary traditions. With crisp champaigne flowing freely, we had a blast cavorting around the kitchen.

Leading up to the big day, I mulled over snack options to take for everyone to nibble on while we cooked, drank, and made merry. While doing so,  I stumbled across a simple method for making a  Polish curd cheese called tvarog or farmer's cheese.  Farmer's cheese,  an unripened white curd cheese with a delicate mild flavor and soft texture similar to cottage cheese or cream cheese, is simple to make at home.. When thinned with cream, it's sometimes  sweetened with sugar and served with jam or seasoned with herbs and served with toasted bread.  Bingo. The perfect snack.

Bonus.  Because the method for making farmer's cheese was similar to the method for fresh ricotta, my cheesemaking hankering was sated. 

Patience was key.  Working over a low flame, I slowly warmed 2 quarts of Channey's whole pastuerized milk until it reached a temperature of 185 degrees, about 45 minutes.  When the steaming milk hit the mark, I pulled it from the heat before adding 2 cups of buttermilk, 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar.   Using a wooden spoon, I carefully and slowly stirred the milk until the curds gently separated from the whey.  I set the floating curds aside to rest (undisturbed)  and joined Michael in the parlor for several glasses of wine.

After 35 minutes, I lined a colander with 2 layers of damp cheesecloth, placed it over a larger mixing bowl, and ladled the curds into the soft net.  I let the whey fall from the curds for 10 minutes before gathering the cheesecloth into a bundle and squeezing out additonal whey. After hanging the cheese ball from a makeshift contraption to drip dry, I tumbled the finished farmer's cheese into a bowl, formed it into a mound,  wrapped it in plastic, and slid it into the refrigerator.

The day of the polka party, I brought the farmer's cheese to room temperature and thinned it with cream. After blending the cheese with snipped chives, chopped parsley, garlic, minced radishes, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and cracked pepper, I spooned the spread into a raddichio-lined serving bowl before drizzling  extra virgin olive oil over the silky cheese. 

For texture and bite, I scattered additional minced radishes over the top and surrounded the creamy herb-flecked farmer's cheese spread with rustic rye toast points.


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