Ricotta making the old ways
Welcome to page (30), making ricotta cheese
Dear readers, in our previous article, we have talked about cheese and how we made cheese in the small farms of southern Italy when I was young, in this hub we will be talking about how we made ricotta cheese; but first of all, let us explain where the name ricotta comes from and why it is called ricotta. So, you may ask what ricotta cheese is and why it is different from normal cheese; you see, ricotta cheese is a soft type of cheese extracted from the whey that is left after making normal cheese. The name ricotta is an Italian name because it means what it says; in Italian ricotta means that you are cooking it a second time, and that is exactly what happens when we make ricotta, we are cooking again that whey from that batch of milk that we have already used and extracted the normal cheese; we use a different procedure of course when we re-cook the whey a second time, in order to extract whatever is left in it and we are able to extract from that whey.
Now, we need also to say that this hub is being written with a double view in mind, one of which is to tell you my life story and what I did when I was young, since this is the story of my life as well, so, I am telling you the story of my life and how I had to cope with all those things that I had to do in those hard times just to live a normal everyday life. I know that there might not be much to learn from this hub for the general public today, because these things have changed a lot since then and this is not a cooking show, where you can learn how to cook certain things; and anyhow it would be hard for the general public to be in a position to make ricotta, where could they collect enough whey to make ricotta cheese? You see what I am writing here is the old way of making ricotta cheese, therefore it is history; and today things are done in a different way, but so what! We can still use this story to compare the old ways of life with today ways of life. Therefore, this is still a story that could be told and anyhow we can still learn something from it, since there are people that don’t know anything about how to make cheese or ricotta cheese and where they come from, so, for some people it could be interesting just to know how ricotta could be made, so let me tell you how ricotta cheese was made, in the small farms of Southern Italy when I was young.
So, let me tell you how ricotta was made then the way that my grandma taught me when I was young.
As you all know, in one of my last hubs, I have been telling you how we made cheese a long time ago in the small farms of southern Italy, in this hub I am going to tell you how we used the whey that was left over from the cheese and made ricotta cheese, that is the way that my grandma taught me a very long time ago; I know that you are thinking now, what is the use to know that, since we are not going to make ricotta ourselves, because we don’t have the whey to start with and we can just buy ricotta and eat it from the shop nowadays, it is a lot easier and perhaps even cheaper and enjoyable to do that. Okay I know what you mean, but just to compare the ways of life of today with the ways of life we had when I was young, which I believe life was a lot harder then, I am going to tell you how we made ricotta cheese my grandma way anyhow.
Here are links on the web that explain about ricotta cheese
Ricotta making the old ways
So, let us go back to when I have made cheese in our previous article, at the end of which I have collected all the whey and replaced the whey in the large kettle and I was ready to make ricotta, so let us start making ricotta cheese my grandma way, you can check out how we made cheese at our hub Cheese making, this is the link, Cheese making
First of all we had to rekindle the fire and make sure that you have enough fire wood for the whole procedure, then lift the large kettle and whey on this three legged devise on the fire and start warming the whey slowly and steadily, as the whey warms up you need to turn this wooden devise around and around in a slow motion always in the same direction, this wooden devise is only a simple stick with a larger end, and although it is simple it has been made perhaps from elm-wood or some very high grade wood as it is an utensil purposely made and it is going to last for a very long time, perhaps for generations, this wooden utensil has a larger rounded end, and you need to turn it around in the same direction as I said with the larger end dragging softly on the bottom of the kettle, so that any ricotta that is forming while the whey warms up does not stick to the bottom of the kettle.
While the whey warms up and you keep turning this wooded devise, this procedure will reach a stage when you can see that some very fine flakes of ricotta are forming in the whey, this is the stage when you need to set the ricotta to rise at the top of the whey, how can we do that you may ask? This can be achieved by adding about half a litre of goat milk to the whey, while you continue to turn your wooden devise as described before, this action of adding this goat milk should set a reaction to the forming ricotta in the whey and it will rise to the top.
This is how it is done and if you follow this method and you add just goats’ milk you end up with a beautiful soft and very tasty ricotta cheese, but if you want more ricotta cheese than usual, then you have to add to the whey some acid stuff that you have made yourself, (usually this was some old acid whey that we kept in a bottle from the previous ricotta making) anyhow, in the country where they make ricotta you may be able to buy this acid stuff from the chemist, with this stuff from the chemist you can make at least twice as much ricotta, but the quality will not be as good as when you use just plain goat milk.
Anyhow let us go back to make this ricotta cheese; and here you need to continue to turn the wooden devise around even more slowly for a few more minutes; you have to take it slower because you don’t want to mix the rising ricotta to the whey again, and when you see that all this ricotta has come to the top of the whey, you can slowly take out the wooden devise from the kettle, then lift down the hot kettle and you are ready to collect your own ricotta, which is now at the top of the whey for you to collect.
Collecting your own ricotta
At the time when I was young the new hot ricotta would be collected in small woven baskets that would let the rest of the whey out while the ricotta was cooling down, we collected it with a sort of colander with handle from the top of the whey, at the end of all this work sometimes we would leave a bit of ricotta for ourselves, and we used it in the following manner: you see, in the farms of those days you had to think for yourself what you were going to eat next time you had to eat, so this was just another way to make a warm meal quickly.
Usually in the farms of those days there was always plenty of dry old bread that would be hard to eat the way it was, so, we would slice the bread and put it in a large dish, and then we would put the still hot ricotta and a bit of whey on top of this dish filled with old bread; this rustic prepared dish usually would replace a whole meal during the day. Okay, you might be shocked and spew that this was a prepared dish of wholesome food, but hey it was either that or just old dry bread, I hope you see what I mean, and I am pretty sure that if you were in the same position, you would prefer this warm dish to just dry old bread; believe it or not that is how hard life was in those old times; so we all should be thankful to the progress that we have achieved since then.
Anyhow, let us complete our task that we were doing, at this point of time the whey in the kettle is still hot, it has got to be because to make ricotta, we had to warm the whey to a very high temperature just below boiling point, so, I have one last use for this hot whey before I finish with it; I have to dip the fresh cheese that I have made in our last hub into it for say half a minute or so, and this is a sort of pasteurisation for the new cheese.
I know that now you are saying, this procedure about cheese and ricotta cheese making is very boring; I hope you have finished with it now, because we don’t see the use of knowing all this stuff thank you very much. Sorry to disappoint you because I still have to explain that in those days even the whey had to be put to good use, it has always been so in farming, the main rule in farming is; waste not want not, so what we did with the whey was this, we could give small drinks of it to cats and dogs, it had to be small drinks otherwise it would make them sick. The rest of the whey was good for the pigs to drink and to mix with coarse milled grains to feed them. Yes, you guessed it right once again the farmers don’t like to waste anything at all, and the pigs are the saving bank of all farm foods that would otherwise go to waste.
Now that I have described to you this cheese making and ricotta cheese making, I start to feel that I might have said enough about my farm life in the town of Genzano di Lucania, so let me see what else is there to tell you: Yes there are a few more things to tell you, like wine making the old ways, the heritage chapter and the Madonna story and others things, we are going to do this before we leave the town that I was born and lived my young life. After that we are going to talk about my life experiences as a migrant to this land of opportunities Australia. See you soon, in our hub; Wine making the old ways.