How to make cheese

I got a call the other day from a reader who wanted to make our Herb-Lemon Ricotta Cheese recipe (delicious on our grilled Fresh Ricotta with Arugula and Flaxseed Pizza) … but with lactose-free milk. Would it work, she asked?

I didn’t know the answer. So I checked with the people at Green Valley Organics, a company that launched the first (and very tasty) lactose-free yogurt and sour cream at Expo West last year, and got their suggestions.

It's important to note that you can't use ultra-pasteurized milk to make cheese because UP milk doesn't contain the cultures that acids interact with to make cheese. And at least in the stores I checked, all of the lactose-free milk was also ultra-pasteurized. Then it occurred to me to to add in cultures by including lactose-free yogurt in the mix. I tried it last week and it worked perfectly! 

Lactose-Free Ricotta Cheese

1/2 gallon lactose-free cow milk or goat milk

1 (6-ounce) container lactose-free plain yogurt

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon noniodized salt

1. Whisk milk and yogurt together in a large cooking pot over medium heat. Stir often to avoid scorching. Bring the milk up to 175 degrees (hot but not yet simmering; use a candy thermometer if you have one), and remove from heat. Add vinegar while stirring briefly. Tiny bits of curd will form. Set the mixture aside for 15 minutes.

2. Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth. Pour curds and liquid (whey) into colander to strain. Let drain for at least an hour. Ideally, tie up the bundle with twine, thread the twine around a wooden spoon, and suspend the bundle over a pitcher to drain, in the refrigerator, for a couple of hours or more.

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3. Transfer solids to a bowl and add salt, working in gently. (You can also add lemon zest, herbs, or anything you like for flavor.) Refrigerate in a covered container; keeps for about a week. (I think it makes about 2 cups, but I forgot to measure.) It's delicious!

Green Valley Organics also recommended using their lactose-free yogurt to make “yogurt cheese,” which is the consistency of cream cheese. All you have to do is line a colander with a dishtowel, pour in the yogurt, and let drain overnight in the fridge. Squeeze out any additional water, if necessary, mix in flavorings, and voila–you’re done. “Making a drained ‘yogurt cheese’ with our lactose-free yogurt would be similar in texture as if you used regular yogurt or milk, but the cheese would be tangier,” say the Green Valley Organics folks. On the grilled pizza, because the cheese is so creamy, you’d just want to grill it for a bit less time.

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