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Raising dairy goats is a little like eating potato chips: You can't stop with just one. At least, that's how it's been with us. Once our second nanny was in production, however, we (that is, my husband and I and our two children) suddenly found we had a problem: namely, what to do with all that goat's milk!
Unfortunately, Ohio law made it virtually impossible for us to sell — or even give away — our surplus. Rather than dump the excess down the drain, though, we learned to convert our leftover milk into cheese ... a deliciously tangy ricotta-type cheese that's equally good raw, seasoned with herbs, or used in cooking.
Goat's milk ricotta is easy to make ... and you don't need any special equipment to get started.
Here's all you do:
First, fill a 4 1/2-quart container (we use a stainless steel bowl, although glass would work just as well) with strained, unpasteurized, fresh-from-the-udder goat's milk ... then stir in one crushed Junket rennet tablet. (See article "Goats Milk Cheese The Andulaz Way", for instructions if you'd prefer to make your own rennet at home.) Next, add a cup of yogurt (we use an unflavored, preservativeless store-bought yogurt, but the homemade variety — of course — should work too) and stir well — yet gently — to blend everything. Finally, cover the bowl with a towel or with cheesecloth (try not to let the cover touch the milk) and allow the milk-filled container to stand undisturbed in a corner for 12 to 18 hours.
At the end of the "incubation" period, you'll find that a firm curd has formed on top of the milk. Lift this hardened layer off with a pancake turner, set it aside, and strain the remaining curds and whey through cheesecloth. Then combine all the solids together in a strainer or colander and wash them gently with cold water. Afterward, set the strainer in the refrigerator to drain. In an hour or two the cheese may be removed, transferred to a bowl, and consumed "as is" or flavored to your liking.
For a real taste treat, try mixing your homemade ricotta with salt, pepper, garlic (if desired), and your favorite herbs. (We like to use the spices associated with Italian cookery: rosemary, basil, and oregano.) Stir one-half teaspoon of each herb into two pounds of cheese and taste before adding move seasonings. (Yes, that ricotta is tangy ... but too much spice can — rather than mask the tanginess — quickly ruin the entire batch. So if you must add more herbs, do so a quarter teaspoon at a time.)
One final suggestion: Keep a record of which spices (and how much of each) you've added to the cheese, so you can duplicate any particularly tasty flavor combinations in subsequent batches.
And, if you'd like to enjoy your ricotta a little closer to its original, unherbed state, try using it in cooking. Our all-time favorite ricotta dish is stuffed manicotti, which we make as follows:
- 2 large onions, chopped fine
- 1 clove of garlic, minced or crushed green peppers, seeded and diced (optional)
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 8 to 12 fresh tomatoes, skinned (or two 15-ounce cans of tomatoes)
- Tabasco sauce to taste (optional)
- Chili powder to taste (optional)
- 2 pounds of ricotta
- 2 eggs, raw
- 1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley (optional)
- 1/ 2 pound of hard cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, Colby, or Swiss), grated
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Manicotti shells (one box of 14)
- 2 eggs, hard-boiled (optional)
- Parmesan cheese (or other hard cheese), grated
- In a large skillet or pot, saute the onions and garlic (and the peppers if you decide to use them) in the olive oil until soft. Stir in the tomatoes. (We usually add a little Tabasco and chili powder at this time, too ... but that's up to you.) Season to taste with your favorite herbs, and simmer uncovered for an hour.
- While the tomato-onion sauce is cooking, combine thoroughly in a large mixing bowl the ricotta, raw eggs, parsley (if desired), hard cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. (This is your "filling" mix.)
- Next, boil the manicotti shells according to the instructions given on the package they came in (or according to the recipe you're using if you've prepared the noodles from scratch). Drain the shells, immerse them in cold water, and allow to cool until lukewarm.
- When the manicotti shells are cool enough to handle, stuff them individually with filling mix, using a long-handled teaspoon. (A butter knife also works satisfactorily.) And if the shells split on you, don't fret ... just fold the broken edges over nice and easy, and handle the repaired "packages" gently.
- This is also the time to begin making your hard-boiled eggs (if you decide to use them), and preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- OK. Now you're ready to assemble everything. First, pour or ladle a thick layer of sauce (tomato-onion-spice mixture) into the bottom of a 9-by-13 inch casserole dish or baking pan. (Most any kind of baking container — even a pie or cake pan — will do in a pinch.) Next, place the staffed manicotti shells one by one into the casserole or pan. If desired, cover them with  a thin layer of sauce,  sliced hard boiled eggs, and  a thicker layer of sauce ... otherwise, simply pour a thick layer of sauce over all and top with leftover filling mix (if any), grated Parmesan cheese, or grated cheese of your choice. Cover with foil, bake 20-to-25 minutes, and serve with a green salad. Voila! a delicious — yet economical — meal for six adults.
Should you wind up with any leftover manicotti — which isn't likely — it'll keep for two or three days in the refrigerator ... or for weeks in the freezer.
And, hey! Even if you don't have a surplus of goat's milk on your hands, you'll want to try making your own ricotta — and stuffed manicotti — anyway. The taste is so scrumptious ... you won't be able to stop with just one bite!