I am still finding it amazing that an ordinary person can make actual cheese. I was going to try mozzarella next, but I fell in love with the ricotta, and have made it several times over. It is so good that it seems almost a shame to use it for cannoli cream, where its mild virtues are overwhelmed by all that chocolate and orange marmalade goodness. Well drained, it is firm enough to cut; and I think it is a treat, on a piece of multigrained bread, with salt and pepper and a few sliced radishes.
The lure of firmness and slice-ibility, led me to ricotta salata. The only additional thing I needed was a little basket ricotta mold. Though the traditional wicker version is very appealing, I went with cheapo plastic to start. I got mine from the Cheese Queen, but I'm certain that, as you look at it, possible substitute items, gleaned from supermarket shopping (think berries) will come to mind.
Since I haven't any sheep, for milk or otherwise, I made this cow's milk version, and I think it's pretty cool. "Salata" by the way, just means that it is salted, but a ricotta salata is also drained, pressed and aged (a little). You can slice it with a cheese slicer, shave it with a vegetable peeler, or even grate it. And there are some outstanding salads to make, to show it off.
First, you make some ricotta-from about a gallon of milk, which makes about half a pound. Then, you keep yourself from eating it. Instead, you take it from the draining butter muslin, add another teaspoon of salt, and pack it into a little basket. You can see mine here. Set it atop a small upside down bowl, inside a bigger bowl or pot (so it can drain), and weight the top. I used a Tupperware bowl that just fit on top, and filled it with water, for weight. I'm sure there are any number of brillant alternatives to this makeshift set-up.
Let it sit an hour, and then turn it out. You will probably need to loosen it by running a knife around the outside. Put it back in the basket, upside down, and let it sit for twelve hours. Take it out, and turn it over again, and rub the outside with some salt, gently. Put it back in the basket, and into some sort of container to catch further drippage, and refrigerate.
You do the turning and salting thing every 12 hours for a week, and then let your cute little cheese, with its basket-weave imprint, age for 2 or 3 weeks, drying it off with a clean cloth if its looking damp, trimming any sign of mold, and re-salting the exterior from time to time. Mine cracked quite a bit as it dried out, so that it is now- a couple of weeks later, marginally less cute. But seriously delicious-sharp, but creamy.
I tried a simple pasta thing adapted from Epicurious, to make with Ricotta Salata:
6 oz. penne or similar shape pasta
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
handful fresh basil leaves, torn
3 oz. ricotta salata, broken into chunks
1 1/2 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh tarragon leaves.
Grate the lemon peel into a bowl, and squeeze in the juice. Add everything but the pasta and tarragon, and toss. Grate some fresh black pepper over- but wait until it's done to see if you need salt- as the cheese is very salty. Cook and drain pasta. Add to bowl, and toss. Sprinkle with tarragon, and correct seasoning. Share with one other person. Consume.
Not bad- a little dry-think I'll add a bit of hot pasta cooking water to it next time. Very summery and refreshingly sharp. To come: salads with ricotta salata. Also, I think I saw something about baking it- to "carmelize the flavors." That sounds nice, too.