Do-it-yourself yogurt and cheese for Shavout dairy dishes

Food traditions for Shavuot are centered on dairy dishes. So make this Shavuot the cheesiest by making your own ricotta cheese, yogurt and yogurt cheese.

Shavuot, which begins  at sundown Tuesday, May 18, commemorates the giving of the Torah, and the dairy custom often is said to be connected to that tradition. After receiving the laws of Torah, it is said that our ancestors could not eat foods that had been prepared in ways they now knew were improper, so they chose dairy foods instead. Another reason is linked to King Solomon’s poetic description of Torah in the Song of Songs, that “milk and honey are under your tongue.”

The cheese and yogurt recipes here require little special equipment other than cheesecloth and an instant-read thermometer. They do require a little patience, but they are well worth it for their taste and freshness.

Ricotta Cheese

Makes 2 cups

This cheese is light and fluffy. It can keep a few days but will become denser. Eat fresh, sprinkled with salt, pepper and chopped herbs, or with berries and honey. Use it to make fillings for crêpes, omelets or even lasagna. Adapted from “Cucina Fresca” by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman.

2 qts. whole milk

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 to 6 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Combine the milk and cream in a pan. Cook over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the milk begins to simmer (about 185 to 190 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Add 1 Tbs. lemon juice. Stir and watch for the mixture to separate into tiny curds about the size of a tiny grain of rice. Repeat until curds appear. Reserve the rest of the juice for another use.

Pour the curdled milk into a colander lined with a dampened, double layer of cheesecloth. Drain over a deep bowl for an hour or until very thick. Discard the liquid, or whey; or use to make soup or bread. Store airtight in the refrigerator.

Homemade Yogurt

Makes 1 quart

Use however you’d use commercial yogurt. Be sure the yogurt you use as a starter has live, active cultures and is made without stabilizers or gelatins. Based on a recipe from ReadyMade magazine.

1 qt. whole or 2 percent milk

2 Tbs. whole, low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt

Cook milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until it reaches 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove pan from heat. Let cool until milk is 115 degrees.

Add yogurt and mix well. Pour into a quart jar with lid. Wrap in towels. Place in an insulated cooler bag or ice chest for 12 hours or overnight. Store in the refrigerator.

Yogurt Cheese

Makes about 21⁄2 cups

Use yogurt cheese as a spread either plain or seasoned. Be sure your yogurt has live, active cultures and is made without stabilizers or gelatins. Try goat’s or sheep’s milk yogurt for extra tang.

32 oz. whole, low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt

Place the yogurt in a colander lined with a double thickness of dampened cheesecloth over a deep bowl. Allow to drain in the refrigerator 12 hours or overnight. Serve as a spread. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container.

For a thicker cheese, tie the drained yogurt in its cheesecloth to the handle of a wooden spoon and suspend over a bowl for another four hours.

Serve plain, seasoned or shaped into logs or balls and rolled in cracked black pepper or minced herbs. Wrap in plastic. Store in the refrigerator.

Faith Kramer
is a Bay area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs her food at Contact her at [email protected]

Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. She blogs about her food at Contact Faith at [email protected].