Making Fresh Ricotta Cheese at Monticello

Monticello in Bloom

Monticello in Bloom

Last September I was finally, after many years, able to attend the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival. It was everything I thought it would be and more. Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener and scientist – you should see his garden! The Heritage Harvest Festival celebrates gardening, sustainability, and natural history. If you’re planning on going, I recommend the VIP pass, yes it’s a bit more, but it’s worth it. You get access to the Festival Opening Guest Speaker, Monticello Center parking, ½ off classes, access to the VIP tent with comfy chairs, food and drinks, and passes for the house tour, just to name a few perks.

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I took a lot of classes. Monticello has a fabulous visitor center with several classrooms located below. One class in particular was something I wanted to learn for a long time and goes well with making your own pasta, which I love. Making ricotta cheese is not only easy, it tastes a million times better when it’s fresh. Trust me on this.

Tasting Fresh Ricotta

Tasting Fresh Ricotta

Nancy Bruns, along with her brother Lewis Payne, have revived the generations old family salt works in Malden, West Virginia. J. Q. Dickinson Salt-Works sources their brine from the Iapetus Ocean, trapped deep below the mountains of Appalachia. Once the brine is brought to the surface Nancy and Lewis use good, old-fashioned energy from the sun and wind to process this all natural salt. One of the byproducts of this small-batch salt processing is a product called liquid nigari. Rather than disposing of this byproduct, Nancy now uses nigari to produce cheese.

A Bottle of Nigari Used in Making Ricotta

A Bottle of Nigari Used in Making Ricotta

Nigari, also known as magnesium chloride, is a Japanese word for “bitter.” It is also a coagulant or solidifier extracted from clean ocean water by solar evaporation, or the “stuff” that is left behind when the salt is dried and processed. Mainly, nigari is used in Japan to make tofu out of soy milk. Well Nancy, who has a culinary degree and owned a restaurant and catering business, experimented with nigari in making cheese from cow’s (or goat’s or sheep’s) milk. Guess what? It worked.

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Using nigari as the coagulant in your cheese making, along with fresh milk and a pinch of salt gives you fresh ricotta in under 30 minutes. It’s as easy as that!

Creamy, Fresh Ricotta on Crusty Bread

Creamy, Fresh Ricotta on Crusty Bread

Once the ricotta is done you strain it through cheese cloth to separate the whey from the curds. And no, this isn’t a nursery rhyme; Little Miss Muffet ate her curds and whey together. In this case we just want the curds, now a creamy, delectable ricotta begging for a plate of bread or pasta to keep it company. Mmmmm! Oh, and save your whey! Why?! You can use the whey to make fresh mozzarella next. Think about the possibilities….

For the recipe click here. You cannot go wrong, I promise you!