The Homemade Whey
Article & Photos By Amelia Moulis | The Homecoming Issue
On the final day of any student’s assessments, when you’ve jumped every academic hurdle of your entire degree, and you no longer feel the shackles of I-should-be-studying guilt, you invariably go out and celebrate. You do something extravagant, something liberating, something you may not remember the next day. On the night I completed my final exams, I went to a butter making class. This may not seem extravagant or liberating to everyone — the only details I became hazy on from that night were the specific ratios of buttermilk to whole milk. But trust me when I say the next morning was pure heaven with my towering plate of homemade buttermilk ricotta hotcakes, made with my very own buttermilk ricotta, and smothered in my self-churned cultured butter.
The butter making class was run by Naomi Ingleton from the Myrtleford Butter Factory in Australia’s rural South East town of Myrtleford. A culinary powerhouse of soured, churned and matured dairy, Naomi revived the dormant factory in 2007. Her commitment to the craft has since seen her travel the world, including a two-week stint with the famed Noma butter makers (awarded “World’s Best Restaurant” three years running), and she now churns out over 1,100 pounds of butter each week.
The most surprising thing about making butter, what became most obvious during the class, is that it’s actually not that hard. Certainly, to create the most perfectly balanced block of butter, an epicurean delight akin to that made in Myrtleford, it takes a wealth of knowledge and know-how. But for a nice simple knob of cultured butter, the process goes somewhat like this:
- Combine 1 teaspoon of pot-set yoghurt or crème fraiche with fresh pouring cream in a jar with a marble in it
- Leave it out overnight to sour and thicken, then refrigerate in the morning until it’s cold
- Shake it all about until you have lots of clear liquid splashing around (i.e. the buttermilk) and a solid hunk of golden yellow (i.e. the butter). This takes a while; I highly recommend getting a strong man-friend on board.
- Dunk the butter into ice cold water, give it a little wash and squeeze out the excess water
- Add whatever you want – salt, garlic, truffles, spices – roll it into a log, wrap in wax paper and store in the fridge
That’s literally all. It made me question why I ever buy butter. And there’s an even faster way to making uncultured butter, where you start with cream and just shake it up from there.
MAKING BUTTERMILK RICOTTA
When Naomi showed us how to make buttermilk ricotta I had another such revelation – “Why have I never made this before?!” Ricotta is so readily available that you just don’t think about making it. Yet, not one ricotta I have ever tasted is so beautifully creamy as the batch I made myself, with that slightly tangy undertone made more prominent by the buttermilk.
There are several ways to make ricotta. Naomi suggested starting with buttermilk, and adding one cup of full cream milk if desired. Although the final product was delicious, I found Naomi’s recipe to be a bit out of the average student budget – it called for a great deal of buttermilk and didn’t yield that much ricotta. So I played around and this has been my favorite so far:
- Combine one cup of buttermilk for every four cups of whole cream milk
- Place over low heat – don’t let it boil – and be Zen until you see solid white curds gathering on top. This can take a while; make sure you have some entertainment.
- Scoop the curds off with a slotted spoon, add to a Tupperware container or bowl or whatever you have on hand. This is your ricotta.
- Keep going until you only have the translucent whey left.
There are some various do’s and don’ts along the way, but let’s not complicate it; none of them are really make or break and you should get a decent batch regardless. Feel free to then spread it on toast with cherry tomatoes and basil, or bake with garlic and rosemary for a killer dip, or throw it on a pizza, use it in a pasta sauce, mix it in with your scrambled eggs… Or, my favorite, mix up a demonic batch of hotcakes.
BUTTERMILK RICOTTA HOTCAKES
Now comes the ultimate indulgence. My mom used to make these on lazy weekend mornings, when golden strands of sunlight danced down our table in the garden. We’d sit in our pyjamas and sip on freshly squeezed orange juice, having already accepted the inevitability of the food coma. This recipe is home.
- 1 1/3 cups ricotta
- ¾ cup milk
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 50 g butter
- Place ricotta, milk and egg yolks in a mixing bowl and stir
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and add to the ricotta mixture, mixing until just combined
- Beat egg whites in another bowl until stiff peaks form, then gently fold egg whites through the batter in two batches (with a large metal spoon)
- Lightly grease a large non-stick frying pan and drop 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan for each hotcake, cooking over a low to medium heat for 2 minutes, or until hotcakes have golden undersides
- Flip them over and cook the other side until golden and cooked through (they’ll still be nice and moist inside) and transfer to a plate
Serves 6-8, or one hungry student
They’re best served with any combination of banana, strawberries, frozen blueberries heated up in the microwave, real Canadian maple syrup, a knob of your cultured butter… Or for something really different, you can add honey and smashed up honeycomb (or a candy bar) to any butter that you have, whipping up some delightfully sweet honeycomb butter. Hungry yet? I sure am.