They say, “You don’t know what you got, till it’s gone.” Somehow, that seems to apply to nearly every trip to the grocery store.
Although there is a wealth of great things available here that aren’t available in American grocery stores, there are moments when I want to through a fit, similar to the ones I see the kids throw on Super Nanny. You know the kind, fling your body to the floor of the store, pounding fists and screaming ones. They are just expressing their frustration over not getting “what they want” and sometimes, I would like to do the same. What about you?
In the grocery store, there is a nice cheese section. It is nothing like you would find in Whole Foods or Nugget, but truth be told, it is far better than it was almost 10 years ago. Before, the selection included Edam and Queso Fresco. Queso Fresco and Edam. Maybe it wasn’t quite that limited, but you should have heard the tremors of jubilation when a few blocks of imported cheddar cheese showed up. Now, you have a wider selection that does include Gouda, Swiss, Brie, Blue, Mozzarella among others in the cheese bin and the soft cheeses on the wall nearby. Whereas you could not find things like sour cream or cream cheese before, you can now drain your savings account and buy some. Maybe it is not that bad…but it is pretty bad. A simple NY cheesecake might run you about $20 to make at home.
It is not only the cost that prevents me from taking part in so many of the newer cheeses, it is also the texture and taste. The soft cheeses here are just….different. Take Ricotta Cheese for example. It comes in a block. A hard block. It has a more grainy “texture” than the queso fresco, but still…a block? Yes, I have bought it. I was hopeful. I tried to blend it with milk to bring back the creaminess – but to no avail. I began to miss the tall containers of non-fat Ricotta where I could buy a pound for about $3. Here, I would spend $3 for a small block of tasteless non-goodness.
For that reason, when we made the Pizza Rustica a couple weeks back, I decided to forgo the visit to the cheese counter and try to MAKE CHEESE at home! I read a few things about making Ricotta Cheese and thought it sounded simple enough. Because Ricotta is composed primarily, okay like 99%, from milk, the type of milk you choose is incredibly important. In Peru, milk is taken to an Ultra High Temperature in order to package the milk for a longer shelf life. You know those boxes of “fresh” milk you can buy and store in your cupboard for 6 months? Yeah, those – they have the UHT label stamped neatly on the front. That means they were heated up so high, they forgot they were real milk. You cannot use those boxes, bags or bottles of milk – the treatment they have undergone will prevent them from behaving correctly.
My recommendations? You will want to find a true fresh, real milk to use that has not been heated to oblivion. The brands I have used are La Molina and Danlac. You will notice that neither of these have the UHT initial printed on them. They are Real. Milk. As for the cream, I am a fan of Piamonte Lacteos who has a great “Crema de Leche” – of course, in a bag. My final recommendation? Make your own Ricotta Cheese. You will be glad you did!
- 4 cups (1 liter) fresh milk (La Molina or Danlac brands)
- 1 cup (236 cc) heavy cream (Piamonte brand)
- 1 teaspoon Peruvian salt
- 3 tablespoons key lime juice (juice from 3 Peruvian limes)
- Combine milk, cream and salt in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat the mixture, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until it reaches 190F on a candy thermometer. (If you don't actually have a thermometer to test the milk, keep in mind that you will see the milk begin to bubble in the middle first, then it will begin to produce the small bubbles around the edges. You are looking for that crucial point when the bubbles around the edge just begin to turn almost "foamy.")
- Remove the milk mixture from the heat and pour in the lime juice. Stir gently with a wooden spoon to combine, making just a few full circles, and then let the mixture sit undisturbed for about 5-10 minutes.
- At this point, prepare your colander with cheesecloth or (like I do, sans cheesecloth) with a few layers of paper towels. Place the lined colander into another larger bowl. Gently pour the milk mixture into the paper towels. Allow the mixture to drain for 1-2 hours (depending on the consistency you desire). This will separate the curds (what is left in the colander) from the whey (what drains off into the larger bowl). Feel free to discard the whey or keep for other creative uses (and if you have a good one, please let me know!).
- Transfer the cheese to an airtight container and refrigerate. Use within a few days to prevent spoiling.