I went to a talk on cheese making this morning. I was fairly sure before the event that I was not going to make my own cheese at home, and was merely going along to be sociable and in the same spirit of enquiry in which I listen to The Kitchen Cabinet on R4. Cheese always strikes me as potentially risky. Honey is fine. Jam is fine. Things can go awry with both of them, but they are chock full of sugar and really very unlikely to kill anybody. Cheese with the wrong bugs in it can be fatal.
Our lecturer started with a demonstration of Ricotta on somebody's Aga. All you need to make your own Ricotta, it turns out, is milk, white vinegar and a cheese cloth. She heated the milk until it steamed, added some vinegar, then added a bit more vinegar to speed things up for demonstration purposes. Before our very eyes the curd started to form, the tutor lifted it out with a pasta scoop and put it in a colander lined with cheesecloth, and by lunchtime we had Ricotta, still slightly warm but edible.
The whey, our tutor explained, made a good base for soup where it would give a creamy taste, or as the cooking liquid in casseroles, where the vinegar would tenderise the meat although the whey did not taste vinegary. She also used it as the liquid when making bread. A gallon of milk would yield about five pints of whey as well as the Ricotta. I did not think the Systems Administrator and I would want that much Ricotta, but apparently the method scales down perfectly well and you can do it with as little as a pint.
Marscapone sounded easy as well, just double cream set with a pinch of tartaric acid. Tartaric acid is not the same thing as cream of tartar, and one might have to buy it from a specialist cheese supplier. As our lecturer said, look at the price of Marscapone in the shops relative to cream. Yogurt was easy, she assured us, and Greek yogurt was just ordinary yogurt dripped through a cheesecloth. A cheesecloth did seem to be pretty key. She used blue ones rather than traditional white muslin so that she'd be able to see if any threads had ended up in the cheese (the alternative view would be that a few muslin threads weren't going to hurt you and you'd rather not know). Purpose made cheesecloths are fabricated in their final size and not cut down from a larger piece of material anyway, to reduce the risk of stray threads.
Mozarella sounded a faff, because you had to drop lumps of cheese in boiling water and then stretch them wearing heat proof cheese stretching gloves. Cheddar needed a cheese press, and anyway by the time we were on to the cheeses made adding purchased bacteria I felt I was in food poisoning territory. It's no good, if I want some Brie I'll buy it in Waitrose so that I can be sure the bloom on the outside is the right sort of mould. But Ricotta and Marscapone and Greek yogurt I could cope with. I might even Google cheese making suppliers for blue cheesecloth and tartaric acid.