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Recipe: Homemade Cheese, in the Ancient Roman Style

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Photo courtesy of Nancy DeLucia Real
Photo courtesy of Nancy DeLucia Real

For more on Gallo-Roman cooking, click here.

Here's something that people made and ate more than two millennia ago, but familiar to all of us. Art historian and chef Nancy De Lucia Real shares a simple cheese recipe that Romans would have eaten in Gaul (modern-day France), cited in writer Pliny's Latin text, "Natural History" written in 77 AD, that says the best cheeses came from the villages near what is now the city of Nîmes in southern France. You don't need to go all the way to Europe to try this Roman staple -- this cheese is easily replicated at home.

Homemade Cheese
Makes one 4-inch round cheese

Since this traditional recipe uses organic whole milk and vinegar for coagulation, the resulting cheese is extremely fresh and without artificial additives. It will keep, covered in an airtight container and refrigerated, for 2 to 3 days.

1 gallon organic, whole milk
½ cup white, distilled vinegar
1-1/4 teaspoons salt

Pour the milk into a 10 to 12-quart saucepot and heat, stirring constantly, until almost boiling.

When milk begins to smoke and almost boils, remove the saucepot from heat.

Immediately stir in the vinegar; let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, line a strainer with cheesecloth, and set it over a large pot or bowl (bowl should be placed inside the sink).

After 10 minutes, pour the milk-vinegar mixture into the cheesecloth set over strainer. The solids (curds) should separate from the yellowish liquid (whey).

Stir the salt into the whey in bowl and then pour it over the curds in the strainer.

Let the curds continue to drain in the strainer for one hour.

Discard the liquid or whey.

After the cheese has finished draining, tighten the cloth around the cheese.

Loosen the cheesecloth and, using a soup spoon (or one that is slightly larger), gently scoop out the cheese and transfer it to a glass or porcelain bowl measuring 8 to 9 inches in diameter.

Pat the cheese into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap.

Store the fresh cheese in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Homemade cheese keeps refrigerated in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days.

Variation: You can experiment with different varieties of cheese by adding ground black pepper, dried, red chili peppers, or your favorite herbs.

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