Many people know me as mainly a food guy. I do spend much of my time thinking, reading about and preparing food, but in my past I did study biochemistry. That element remains at certain points. When I look at something like baking, candy-making or cheesemaking, much of it has a chemistry element.
Over the course of my years of reading about food, I’ve read about many cultures and their varying techniques on how to deal with certain ingredients. Prior to the development of refrigeration, several ingenious techniques developed on how to keep dairy products. The most common one is cheese. The curdling of the fatty elements in cheese leaves little space for any kind of harmful bacterial proliferation. The curd itself may be susceptible to bacterial invasion after awhile, but many cultures developed waxy coatings or other protective coverings.
Alternatively, where the taste for sweeter flavours developed, dairy has been cooked down with sugar to make a caramel. Dolce de leche in South America, where cows are more prominent and cajeta in Mexico, where goats are the dominant animal.
The chemistry between cheesemaking and milk caramel production varies. In cheesemaking, it’s largely a control acidic environment. Whether the acidifying agent is vinegar or lemon juice, or an acidifying agent like rennet, they all induce coagulation of the fatty curd away from the proteinaceous whey. The subsequent treatment of that curd is where the variability in cheeses lie.
I thought I’d start with the most basic of cheeses: ricotta. And because I like bolder flavours, I thought I’d use goat’s milk.
Goat’s Milk Ricotta
2 L Fairwind Farms goat’s milk
1/4 cup rice vinegar
In a large pot, heat the goat’s milk over medium heat until you reach a temperature of 87C/190F. Immediately remove from the heat and add the vinegar. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes for the curds to separate from the whey.
After 15 minutes strain the curd through a couple of layers of cheesecloth over a sieve. Reserve the whey and repeat the heating and curdling again. Keep the whey for future use in muffins or pancakes. Serve the fresh curd with honey or with goat’s milk caramel.
Goat’s Milk Caramel (Cajeta)
2 L Fairwind Farms goat’s milk
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda + 2 tsp water, dissolved together
In a large pot, bring the goat’s milk and sugar to a simmer over medium heat (about 10-15 minutes). Take off the heat, add the baking soda and water solution and stir. The bubbling will be quite pronounced from the mildly alkaline solution. Wait for the bubbles to completely subside, then put back on medium heat and stir occasionally over the course of an hour, turning the heat slightly down if the simmering becomes too aggressive. Simmer for another 45-60 minutes to completely reduce the liquid component and caramelize the sugars for a total of about two hours. The caramel should be fluid yet thick. If it tightens too much add a few teaspoons of warm water to loosen it.
For an alternative dessert presentation, core and cut one slightly under-ripe pear into 2cm/1″ chunks and cook with 3 Tbsp goat’s milk caramel. Add a few tablespoons of warm water and simmer in a small pot for about 10 minutes over medium high heat until the pear softens, but does not get mushy. Spoon a few tablespoons of the prepared caramel pears over fresh goat’s milk ricotta. Serves 3-4.