For the past four weeks, I have been doing a weekly food segment with SBS Radio’s Arabic program, discussing food and its relationship with Middle Eastern culture, the origin of various dishes, food that has gone extinct, ingredients, techniques and produce. This Friday, the topic will be on the various methods of preserving food, from drying to curing (sugar, spice or salt), smoking, distilling, brining, pickling, etc… In the interview I mention that the reason we have a all this variety of beautiful foodstuffs – think jamon, sardines, couscous, confit, jams – stems from our need to preserve food for the less abundant winter months. It’s difficult for us to imagine that all these unbelievable dishes have been conceived for the basic reason of survival. Take for example a nice piece of cheddar cheese and compare its lifespan to that of a bottle of milk and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The fact that cheese tastes amazing is secondary to the fact that the milk’s use by date has been considerably pushed back.
Today, I had a litre of milk in my fridge that was due to expire in 3 days. Turning it into ricotta added a further 10 days to my investment, and I have to say, I enjoy eating ricotta much more than I enjoy drinking milk. Ricotta is possibly the easiest cheese to make. It takes 5 minutes of preparation, 20 minutes of draining, and bingo, it’s ready to devour. You need no specialist equipment apart from butter muslin or a cheese cloth and no difficult to find ingredients like rennet. To separate the milk solids from the whey you use citric acid which is available at most supermarkets. Some recipes use vinegar but I find I get better results with citric acid. The remaining ingredients are milk and salt, and if you want to indulge, some double cream. This is a high yield cheese, which produces around 200 grams from 1 litre of milk and 3 tbsp of cream. Apart from being easy to make, home made ricotta is better and creamier than any ricotta you have ever tasted. I had mine with bananas, walnuts and honey. Absolutely divine!