Cultured Butter, Ricotta Salata and Mysost

Or, How Far Can Julie Stretch an Extra Gallon of Raw Milk?

My mother was out of town this past week, and we were already a little behind in our milk usage, so this Friday we faced the daunting prospect of two unopened half-gallon jars of precious Windsor Dairy milk and a full pitcher in the fridge with four fresh jars waiting at the pick-up site. *gulp* I made yogurt less than a week ago, so that was out—time to get a little more creative!

Yes, this is ricotta cheese, and no, it is not particularly creative—I’ve made it lots of times before, including since we started getting raw milk shares. Essentially, you bring the milk up to 195F very slowly and stir in some vinegar or lemon juice; this batch was a gallon of milk with some of the cream skimmed off, and my homemade apple cider vinegar.

I’ve been wanting to try making ricotta salata for ages and I decided this was my chance to give it a shot. Here is my ricotta fresca after draining for a while and getting a dose of kosher salt; I always use a clean flour-sack towel to do my draining, whether yogurt or ricotta, and I substituted this for the butter muslin called for in the recipes.

I had to do some serious improvising in the cheese-press and -mold department. One day I will have my dad make me a more permanent cheese press from a coffee can or PVC pipe, but this time around, a retractable vegetable steamer had to serve. I sewed the sides into a more or less stable vertical position with yarn, removed the center pin, lined it with the towel, and filled it with my ricotta curds.

The rest of the towel got bunched on top to fill the “mold” to the top, and then I loaded it up with a cast iron skillet and 12 pounds of hand-weights. This sat for 12 hours or so, compressing.

The next day, I flipped the pressed ricotta out of the mold. It was clearly not as compressed as cheese in a real mold, since some of the curds wanted to crumble off the edges, but it did hold together in a brick for the most part, so I decided to forge ahead and rub my new cheese with kosher salt on all sides. For now, I rewrapped it in the towel, returned it to the steamer basket, and set all of this on a plate in the refrigerator. For the next week, I will be salting the cheese daily and flipping it over, and I may change my storage method sometime in there as well. The salt should continue to release small amounts of moisture from the ricotta until it forms a firm wheel, after which I will need to age it for an additional 2-4 weeks. I’ll post an update down the line when we crack into it!

After making ricotta cheese with a gallon of milk, I had lots of whey leftover. I’m never quite sure of the best way to make use of this byproduct, since it takes up a lot of space and isn’t probiotic like the whey drained from yogurt. This time around, I discovered that it is possible to make a second type of cheese by boiling down fresh whey: a sweetish salty Norwegian cheese called gjetost if made with goat’s milk or mysost if made with cow’s milk. I added a little heavy cream to my bounty of whey and spent the next 4+ hours boiling it down, filling the house with the smell of cheese (or baking bread, according to my dad). Honestly, I was a little skeptical that my whey had more body than say, a gallon of salt water, but after about four hours, it had begun to thicken and change to a golden tan color.

I turned the heat down as low as it would go, and started stirring it every few minutes, waiting for a “fudge-like” consistency to occur. Apparently gjetost is kind of like caramel, though: Once it begins to color, I would not recommend letting it out of your sight. I sat down for just a few minutes to play with Nolan, and when I came back, my carefully reduced pot of whey had gone from barely golden to brown and black. *sigh* I really need a diffuser for this stovetop! At least it wasn’t much of a time or expense commitment. I’ll try this again next time I have a backlog of milk to use up…

You may recall that I skimmed off most of the cream from my milk before making ricotta—that is because the cream from four jars of raw milk is a sufficient amount to make butter! Up until now, I haven’t had enough Windsor Dairy cream to try this, since they are currently not allowed to sell raw milk “products” like cream, but I couldn’t resist making a batch of raw cultured butter with this little windfall. It is possible to culture raw cream without making any additions, allowing naturally present bacteria to work on the sugars in the cream over about 24 hours, but from what I understand, the resulting flavor is frequently less than desirable, so I inoculated my cream with a spoonful of homemade yogurt. Then it was just a matter of dumping the cream into a chilled mixer bowl and beating it until lumps of butter formed like magic!

I tried making butter once when I was a kid, maybe first or second grade. I distinctly remember shaking a big jar of milk in front of the skeptical neighbor children, convinced that chunks of butter would develop at any moment. Since I was probably shaking homogenized 2% milk, that obviously didn’t happen, so I made some excuse to go inside the house for a minute and cut a chunk from a stick of butter into my foamy milk (actually, considering it was the 1980’s, it was probably margarine, lol!) for “proof.” Although I had a few details wrong back then, I felt like a kid again, peering over the edge of the bowl and watching the fluffy white cream morph into watery buttermilk and rich yellow butter. Hopefully I will be able to share the excitement of this process with Nolan one day!

You always hear about the churning or shaking part of making butter, but equally important is the rinsing process. Pressing the butter with a spoon or your hands under filtered water helps remove any little pockets of buttermilk that may be trapped inside the mass, causing the butter to spoil more rapidly. When the rinse-water runs clear, the butter is clean and can be salted if desired; I used some fleur de sel, since I intend to use my cultured butter prominently on top of baked goods rather than just cooking with it.

Butter molds were historically made from carved wood or pressed metal with decorative shapes and designs. I don’t have anything like that, so I opted to press my fresh butter into a 4″ tart pan with a removable bottom, topped with waxed paper. I will be saving most of my precious raw butter for fresh bread and other contemplated baked goods, all of which will need to wait for a trip to the store for flour.

In the meantime, I also need to figure out a good use for a cup of fresh buttermilk—any ideas? This is not the same stuff as the cartons at the grocery store!

Update 11/17/11: My second attempt at mysost, also not quite successful. At the very last moment, the mixture seized like overcooked fudge and hardened so quickly I couldn’t get it in the mold fast enough; I should have pulled it off the heat a few seconds earlier. Maybe at least I can use this one for some sort of cheesy crumb topping for casseroles—we’ll see.

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