Homemade Ricotta Cheese from Fresh Milk or Powder (plus a handy gardening bonus!)

Homemade Ricotta Cheese from Fresh Milk or Powder (plus a handy gardening bonus!)

Today I’m talking two topics: cheese making AND gardening! How? Well, stay tuned!

I love cheese, all cheese but especially ricotta. I can eat a whole tub of it with a spoon. A little sprinkle of nutmeg, some salt and pepper…mmm.

But unfortunately, it’s an expensive habit to have and all those little plastic pots it comes in are no good for the environment. So I wanted to make it myself. I’ve been trying more and more to reduce our plastic waste and homemaking cheese seemed like a good step towards that. Now before you ask, do I get my milk in glass bottles, the answer is unfortunately no. So to get past the plastic bottles milk comes in, I now make my ricotta and yoghurt using milk powder. My local binn inn stocks powdered milk in their bulk bins and you can bring your own reusable container to fill.

The below recipe is for ricotta using fresh milk OR whole powdered milk, whatever you’ve got.

To make this ricotta, use fresh milk or make up your milk powder milk per the instructions it comes with, usually 125g of powder to 230ml of water to make one cup of milk. Heat up milk, then add an acid to split the curds from the whey. Once strained,  you are left with a clump of curds (the ricotta) and an acid whey. This is not the whey you might see advertised in protein shakes, that one is a sweet whey. Sweet whey is the whey byproduct of making hard cheeses like cheddar, and traditionally ricotta is actually made from sweet whey. I, however, am no expert cheese maker and don’t have access to sweet whey so today we are making it the easy way, from milk.

Once the curds split from the whey, you’ll have a whole heap of acid whey and not as much ricotta. This is the bit where people might not think it’s worth homemaking cheese if you’re left with so much acid whey you can’t use! Well, I have good news! You can DEFINITELY use this acid whey as well.

Acid Whey in The Garden (and other uses)

Do you have blueberries, hydrangeas, azaleas, rhododendrons or strawberries? These are a few acid-loving plants and acid whey makes an ideal liquid fertiliser! Add 10ml of acid whey to a litre of water and pour around the base of your acid-loving plants.

On top of that, acid whey can be added to bread, smoothies, juices and more.

What acid to use

So we have established you can use fresh milk or whole milk powder, what about the acid to split the milk? The good news is that this bit isn’t hugely fussy either. I have made batches using lemon juice, white vinegar and my own homemade Apple Cider Vinegar. The only vinegar types I would really stay away from are ones with a very strong taste or colour such as red wine, malt or balsamic vinegar as they would change the taste and colour too much of the whey and cheese.

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Homemade Yacon Syrup

Homemade Yacon Syrup

Let’s take about the benefits of yacon. This sweet, juicy tuber is packed with vitamins for a healthy immune system but one of its best properties is that it is meant to help with regulating blood sugars. It has a very low GI of 1 (Glycemic Index) which means the carbohydrates in yacon are metabolised and digested slowly which stops the peak in blood glucose levels which regular sugar causes.

Because yacon is sweet and ridiculously juicy, it is a great vegetable to turn into a syrup.

The syrup is made by reducing yacon juice until most of the water has evaporated and you are left with a thick, dark syrup resembling molasses. You need a lot of yacon to make the syrup, in my recipe 4kg yacon makes 250ml syrup, but yacon plants produce easily and plentifully so that’s not a huge issue. I get between 1-2kg of yacon per plant. The bonus is that you can replant tubers from the plant you have just harvested and have an endless supply of yacon!

The yacon plant produces two sets of tubers, the eating ones and the reproducing ones. Once you have harvested your yacon, you can store the reproducing tubers under mulch and compost and they’ll pop back up in spring. If you live in an area with snow or regular frosts, it’s best to store the tubers in damp compost inside a glass house or shed.

Yacon reproducing tuber (purple)

In total I harvested just over 4kg of yacon, it came to 4kg exactly once they were peeled and prepped. You can tell how juicy yacon is when you peel it as often the tuber will just snap like ice, as it so water filled.

Then it’s time to blitz up the yacon. I used a blender as opposed to a juicer because my juicer doesn’t extract the same amount of liquid as when I do it manually but if you have an extra good juicer, by all means, do it that way. I got 3 litres yacon juice from my 4kg yacon.

When the yacon is blended it will oxidise quickly and turn green. This is just a visual difference and does not change the taste. The green colour is responsible for the dark, molasses style syrup at the end.

Once the yacon has been blended to a pulp, extract the juice by passing it through a fine sieve, cheesecloth or similar. I used my Onya reusable produce bags for this. This post isn’t sponsored, I just love their innovative, environmentally friendly bags!

Then, bring the juice to a boil, then keep at a rolling simmer for about 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally  (increasing the frequency near the end) while it reduces. Scum will start to rise to the top and this can be scooped off with a spoon. Once the syrup has reduced to a consistency of runny honey, pour it into a sterilised jar.

This syrup is sweet, but only about half as sweet as cane sugar or honey so bear that in mind when substituting for sugar. Taste-wise, it has that hint of yacon taste at the end so it’s not a syrup I would use to slather on my pancakes. It makes a great sweetener in dressings, smoothies, coffee and healthy baking.

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Autumn in the Garden- May to do List

Autumn in the Garden- May to do List

The last month of Autumn! My May garden is always so beautiful. The garden takes on a real green theme but around me, the leaves of the trees are alive with colour.

Seeds to sow now: rocket, kale, broad beans, bok choy, pak choy, tatsoi, peas, chard, silverbeet, coriander, turnips, swedes, radish

Plant from punnets now: cauliflower, kale, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, silverbeet, perpetual spinach, chard

This month it’s a good time to focus on cleaning up your garden to minimise the risk of diseases and pests.

Thrips and Vine Hoppers

Both thrips and passion vine hoppers were out in full force this year! It seems every second tree has the telltale signs of thrip damage. Silvery, discoloured leaves and underneath it’s dotted with black spots.

The coming frosts will kill off thrips on these leaves but many can overwinter to plague you again next spring. Cleaning up all fallen and diseased leaves from under the affected trees, plus the trees around them can minimise next year’s thrip lot.

Come spring, early detection is key to keeping this pest under control. A spray with neem oil or insecticidal soap can be sprayed on the infected leaves.

Insecticidal Soap Spray

  • 2 tablespoons grated, plain soap
  • 1 teaspoon cooking oil
  • 1-litre water

Combine all ingredients together and mix well. Pour into a spray bottle and spray as needed.

May in the Garden- Passion Vine Hopper Eggs on Passionfruit Tendrils
Passion Vine Hopper Eggs on Passionfruit Tendrils

Passion vine hoppers were annoying as heck again this year. They lay their eggs over autumn, on dead wood, in little lines. If they’re on plants, cut off the wood and throw it in the bin, in a tightly sealed plastic bag, or burn them. If it’s on your stakes or trellis, scrape a knife down the edge to squish the eggs. This should reduce the number of these pests come next spring. 

Once spring comes, the best method to control their numbers is to vacuum them up! You can spray with the two sprays mentioned above but they’re so fast, they usually just hop away before you can hit them. Using a handheld vacuum is a satisfying and successful method.

Slugs and Snails

The cooler, wet weather means slugs and snail numbers are on the rise. Protect your little seedlings by laying out snail bait, snail beer traps or go on a snail hunt when it’s dark. Catching them red-handed for a few nights will reduce their numbers. Once you’ve caught them, drown or squish them so they don’t crawl back to your plants. Snails and slugs can travel surprisingly far!

Let-us plant lettuce! And other greens

Keep planting out greens seedlings. If your garden isn’t getting much sun, planting greens is a great way to ensure you always have something to harvest. Keep the colours going in your garden by adding in vegetables such as rainbow chard and purple kale.

Garlic

Now is a great time to plant garlic if you haven’t done so already! You can read more on how to plant garlic here.

Keep Your Soil Covered

It’s not in nature’s nature (😉) to be left uncovered. Any bare soil will soon be covered in weeds unless you do something about it. Layer down mulches (straw, hay, newspaper, leaves) or sow a green crop.

Don’t forget to use what nature is giving you this Autumn. Whether it’s using the leaves to make leaf mould or adding spent plants to your compost, it doesn’t matter as long as it makes its way back to the soil. The worms, your plants and soil eco-system will love you for it.

And Finally…

Give all your vegetables a good liquid feed this month to nourish them over winter. Make your own or use one like this Seaweed and Fish Fertiliser from Tui Garden Products.

Happy Gardening!

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