Monday, November 24, 2008

Homeade Ricotta Cheese

When I worked at the Ritz-Carlton, we made fresh ricotta cheese mainly for canape toppings. After spreading a little on a toast point, we would top it with either prosciutto or candied figs. The flavor is totally different than what you find in the store. Some would say it's bland, but I just think it has a more delicate and subtle flavor. The texture isn't stiff, but more creamy almost like an aged brie.

Frequent seven day work weeks with at least ten hour days. The amount of product that went through our kitchen was unbelievable. Long 'trucks' would be wheeled in early in the morning carrying wheels of Manchego, Parmigiano Reggiano, Explorateur, , Taleggio, Pecorino, Amish Bleu, and Brillat Savarin. Quince paste, fresh figs, dried figs, and cases of champagne grapes stacked so high we would have to reach above our heads to pull items from the top. The butcher would deliver sheets pans of A-breast chickens, duck breasts, and trimmed sirloins. Then an order from Wabash Seafood would arrive with 70 sides of salmon that we would make into a variety smoked salmon or gravlax. In addition, hundreds of oysters and crab claws instantly filled our walk-in coolers. It was an overwhelming sight. The amount of consumption combined with the amount of money changing hands amazed me.

Our Thanksgiving menus were not traditional. The banquet department took care of the that. We focused on salads and plattered protein to enhance the rest of the buffet. We provided extensive seafood displays with ice sculpture, shrimp, crab claws, oyster and all the appropriate sides (Cognac cream sauce, mignonette, cocktail, horseradish). We also provided enormous cheese marbles. The marbles themselves were close to six feet long and three were displayed at a time reflecting assorted soft, hard, and bleus. Our smoked fish displays included salmon, gravlax, shrimp, sturgeon, black cod, and scallops. Our salads varied from sesame tuna and poached halibut to potato salad with truffle vinaigrette to roasted root vegetables. Country pate, chicken liver, and duck pate was also served with grain mustard, cornichons, and Cumberland sauce.

It was an extensive display to say the least. The amount of work and high stress moments made it easier to forget that we were all away from our families. We were each other's family for the day. Once I got in the cab home those evenings, I was so exhausted, I passed out in the car.

Back to the ricotta. Homemade ricotta is rather simple. It probably sounds scary because it's unfamiliar. But here what you'll need:

1 gallon of whole milk

1 quart of buttermilk

1/2 quart of heavy cream

1/2 a lemon

1. Combine the whole milk, heavy cream, and buttermilk in a pot and warm over med-lo heat. Stir frequently to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. Be patient and keep the heat low.

2. Once the mixture is warmed through, squeeze half the lemon in and continue to stir.

3. After a few minutes, a the curd will separate from the weigh. Keep the heat low for another 3-5 minutes until the liquid becomes a bit more clarified.

4. Strain the liquid through some cheesecloth and let the cheese sit in a strainer for a few minutes.

5. Refrigerate and season when you're ready to use.

This make a lot of ricotta, so feel free to half the recipe. The flavor is so mild that you can top it with anything sweet, salty, crunchy, etc. Possibilities are endless.

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