A fantasy come true: I had cheese and wine for dinner one night last week. Lots of it. Nothing else. It wasn't a dare; I spent the evening at Murray's Cheese learning how to make fresh cheeses.
In two hours that whizzed by, we learned to make ricotta and mozzarella cheese with only a few ingredients. The class covered too much material for it to be hands-on, but instructor and Murray's affineur Zoe Brickley (straining mozzarella, at left), gave us enough of a sense of the skills and knowledge needed to make cheese that we left armed with the confidence to go home and make cheese-making plans for the weekend.
The ricotta is shockingly easy; you'll wonder why no one showed you this trick before. We used the recipe for Fresh Homemade Ricotta from Gourmet as a base. You don't need much of a recipe; it just takes this easy formula, plus a little bit of practice.
Basically, use two quarts of milk, a cup of cream and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring those up slowly to a gentle boil then turn the flame way down and stir in three tablespoons of lemon juice. Be gentle now, and watch the curdling begin. The Gourmet recipe says it takes about 2 minutes, but every time we've done it, it's been more like 30 seconds.
The mozzarella was made with a method from Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses. The process is a little more complicated, but completely do-able for any home cook. The process is outlined here.
For any cheese-making, it's important to use good milk. This is not a time to skimp. However, we've heard reports that for these two fresh cheeses, non-homogenized (like Ronnybrook here in New York) milk doesn't do as well. So we have been using organic, homogenized and minimally pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) milk.
Murray's Cheese classes are offered at their Greenwich Village location (254 Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues) and cost from $50 for basic 1.5 hour classes like Cheese 101 (often includes wine), to $195 for four-hour Master Classes where you learn, hands-on, to make things like pizza and pasta with cheese.