August 5, 2008
In Bowen, Homemade Ricotta is made by a group of Russian women (now practically ancient). These women own the cows and farm where Guillermo’s family used to go and buy their milk (‘raw’, or unpasteurized, these days a rarity coveted by foodies in the US that buy cow ‘shares’, these ladies do it the old-fashioned way because they have always done it that way…). Guillermo’s mother would boil the milk before anyone drank it, and I personally am very envious of getting milk fresh from the cow. I can only imagine how fresh it tasted, coming from a local source that grazed ‘free range’, rather than a mega super-market somewhere in suburbia (as I did). The women also make and sell cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella, as well as butter.
The Russian cheese-making women gather on Saturday mornings near Bowen’s bus station, on the outskirts of town near the archway (which has big white metal letters dangling from it that say ‘BOWEN’) and the statue of the Virgin Mary, (simply referred to as ‘la Virgin’) babe in arms, bearing grapes and wheat, she’s an Argentinean Catholic Demeter. Saturday mornings, they sell their homemade ricotta, butter, homemade jellies and baked goods to tourists driving through the countryside, or people taking buses into General Alvear to visit family for the afternoon.
The reasons for making your own ricotta are many–shamefully simple, inexpensive, the homemade version has a better quality and fresher taste than store-bought ricotta. I’ve tried a number of ricotta recipes, some that work, and some that don’t (that could be user error…) and recently found this recipe, which tastes great and works like a charm. Ricotta has plenty of uses, two that come to mind are homemade ravioli and ñoquis del 29. Make up your own batch (takes less than 30 minutes, really) as an homage to those hard-working cow-milking, cheese-making, farm-tending, entrepreneurial Russian women in Bowen.
adapted from Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking
2 quarts WHOLE milk
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
cheesecloth (got mine at Wal-Mart)
Line a colander (mine is one of the screen ones that are like a sieve) with cheesecloth, folded over to make 4 layers. Put milk and buttermilk into a saucepan and heat over high heat. Stir frequently, and scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching. You will start to see curds forming on the top as the milk heats, they look clumpy and white. When the milk starts steaming, stop stirring. When the milk is 175 or 180 degrees Fahrenheit, the curds (the white clumpy stuff that will become the ricotta) and the whey (milky watery stuff that you’ll throw out) will separate. Turn off the heat and carefully ladle the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. (Put the colander in the sink.) Let all the curds drain for about 5 minutes, then gather the edges of the cheesecloth and twist together without squeezing the ricotta. Lat the ricotta drain for 15 minutes longer. Discard the whey. After 15 minutes, transfer the ricotta into an airtight container and refrigerate. Use within one week.