I’m never too sure when to expect our village milkman although I can be fairly certain that, regardless of what day it is, he will surely arrive just as we will have just put our dinner on plates. All hell will break loose with our (many) dogs going wild at the sight of his dogs and whilst we sort out change and return his milk containers the cats take advantage of the ensuing mayhem and make a bold effort to scoop whatever takes their fancy from our plates . It’s the same every week.
But all that aside the milk is delicious and a far cry from the UHT stuff that is on offer in the village shop. At one Lev a liter the price is right too.
If we are unsure of what day he will arrive we are equally unsure as to what quantity of milk he will bring us. Sometimes it can be as much as ten liters, whereas on other days it may only be two or three. But even though ten liters is an awful lot of milk to deal with, I never say ‘no, its too much’ or he thinks I don’t want the milk at all – ever.
I have tried freezing milk but without a great deal of success. I find I still need to use it fairly quickly or it separates and regardless of how much the bottles are shaken the milk refuses to return to its former yumminess. If anyone has a solution to this problem please let me know!
Bu,t as is often the way, the problem of copious amounts of milk has turned out to be the ultimate solution to one of life’s other little hiccups here in Bulgaria. I wouldn’t say problem, because the difficulty in getting ahold of fresh cream can hardly be declared a ‘problem’, not in the scheme of things. Especially as there are perfectly acceptable substitutes. But the real deal… well, if you can get it, why not?
So, with the need to use up an excess of milk, my first adventure to be recorded in the Dairy Diaries was extracting the cream from the milk. It’s fair to say that this procedure is not rocket science. As we all know that lovely stuff naturally rises to the top of the milk but to extract as much of it as possible, well there’s a bit of trick to it.
After experimenting with different containers I found plastic totes to be the perfect bit of kit. Along with an poached egg scooper to lift the cream from the milk.
The milk simply goes into the plastic tote and is put into the fridge for at least 24 hours (48 hrs or thereabouts is better). Then, with the poached egg scooper or other type of slotted spoon, peel back the cream from the milk. Let the thinner, creamy milk drain from the spoon back into the milk. And that’s all there is to it! Sweeten the cream (or not) and use as desired.
Of course we don’t scoff cream all the time but we do like to use butter. As it is one of the pricier items on the shopping list I thought I’d take a shot at making my own. My first efforts were OK but the yield was a little low. However, like everything else, once you get the hang of it and know what to look for its a breeze.
If you don’t have a lot of cream you can freeze it until you amass a reasonable amount but the cream skimmed from at least five liters of milk is worth whipping into butter. As I don’t have any special equipment making a large batch probably isn’t practical for me anyway.
I wish I had a stand mixer but my electric beater does the job. I make sure the cream comes straight from the fridge and beat it on the lowest setting until the cream starts to thicken. Then I turn it up a notch. Keep beating until the cream goes super thick after which the consistency starts to thin out again.
About that time you start to think something has gone horribly wrong – keep going! Little globules of butter will start to form around the edges of the bowl and you may feel the beaters start to ‘catch’ on something. You are nearly there! Splashing a tiny bit of cold water into the bowl will speed up the process, but don’t overdo it.
Eventually the buttermilk will start to separate out and the butter will start to look like, well, butter. Strain off the buttermilk to use in bread, muffins, scones etc.
Now is the time to add about another cup of cold water. Squish the butter around in the water to remove any butter milk that may still remain. I use a wooden spoon at first, draining off the liquid as I go. This, I don’t save. Lastly I run a stream of water into the bowl to ‘wash’ the butter, squeezing and draining as I go until the liquid runs clear. This is important as any remaining buttermilk can give the butter a rancid taste.
Press all the moisture from the butter with a wooden spoon, salt to taste and pack into a suitable container. Although it sounds like quite a production, in practice, its easy enough and the end product is high quality.
Lastly, from my milk cache, I make a batch of ricotta. I love ricotta for both sweet and savory dishes and I love it most of all because making it is as easy as falling off a log. Easier in fact.
I put two liters of milk (or multiples thereof) into a saucepan and heat it to 200 F, or until the milk is bubbly and steaming. Watch it carefully because in the blink of an eye it can rise up and make an awful mess all over your stove.
Take the pan off the heat and add two teaspoons of salt and 1/3 cup of lemon juice, stir gently and leave undisturbed for ten minutes or so. By then the curds should have separated from the whey but if the liquid till looks quite ‘milky’ carefully stir in a bit more lemon juice and leave another five minutes or so.
While you’re waiting, line a colander with muslin or cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
Pour the contents of the pan into the colander, carefully though so that the hot whey doesn’t splash all over you. Leave to drain for twenty minutes and then check the consistency of the ricotta. If you would like firmer curds leave for a little longer. And that’s it! Add more salt if you need to, then pop your cheese into a suitable container.
The left over whey can be used to make bread, muffins and sturdy cakes or fed to the animals.
If you don’t have a village milk man you can certainly use store bought milk although I’m not sure if you would be making any great savings, it all depends on the price of the milk. Most importantly, whatever milk you choose it cannot be UHT, that simply will not work. It goes without saying that to make cream or butter you must use full fat milk, but if you want to have a go at making ricotta then skimmed is fine.
If you haven’t tried you hand at producing these added value dairy products I really do encourage you to have a go.