Easter Basket Cheese

Easter Basket Cheese

Spring on a goat farm is a very exciting time.  Grass is turning green, adorable kids are arriving, and the goat milk is beginning to flow again.  I have very fond memories of being on my uncle’s farm in Ohio one Easter and feeling like it was the perfect place to be to celebrate this season of rebirth and renewal.

Easter basket cheese is an Italian tradition that is only found in a few select markets during this holiday season.  It’s a smooth, soft cheese that is usually sold right in the basket that it’s made in.  While it’s typically made with cow’s milk, I have made it with goat’s milk with excellent results.  And although your baby goats might be getting most of their mother’s milk at the beginning of the season, if you can manage to get a little for yourself, this festive seasonal basket cheese is so easy and delicious, it is a great way to re-start the cheesemaking season and celebrate the arrival of spring.

One of the things that makes this cheese very unusual is that it only consists of milk and rennet, the enzyme that coagulates milk.  There is no culture used at all which contributes to the mild, smooth taste and texture and really lets the taste of the milk shine through.  While I love spooning the cheese right from the basket into my mouth, Easter Basket cheese is often used as a cooking ingredient, similar to ricotta, or it can be crumbled onto a salad.  The most famous recipe that calls for Easter Basket Cheese is the traditional Italian Easter Pie.  This decadent meat-and-cheese pie is traditionally served by many Italian Catholics at noon the day before Easter to celebrate the end of Lent.  But you can enjoy it any time you want a hearty delicious meal!

Fresh Easter Basket Cheese Recipe

  1. HEAT: Heat 1 gallon of whole milk to 90 degrees.
  2. COAGULATE: Remove from heat. Add 1 tsp of rennet diluted in non-chlorinated water.  Let set for 45 minutes.
  3. CUT: Cut curd into small pieces and stir gently for 5 minutes.
  4. FILL BASKET (s): Scoop curds into baskets (you may wish to line with cheese cloth, at least until you’ve flipped the cheese).  Let drain 30-45 minutes or until firm enough to handle.
  5. FLIP:  Flip the cheeses and return to baskets.  Allow to drain for 1 hour.
  6. FLIP & PRESS: Flip again and then place a follower or lid or another basket on top and then place a 1-2 pound weight on top.  Let drain overnight.
  7. SALT:  Option #1: Take out of basket and sprinkle with salt and return to basket.  Option #2:  Set the basket with the wheel of cheese into a container of brine (5 parts water:1 part salt) for 20 minutes.
  8. REFRIGERATE:  Leave in basket and store in refrigerator to firm up.  Eat within a few days, use as an ingredient in a recipe, or freeze.

Italian Easter Pie Recipe

Pie Dough:

2 ½ cups flour

2 TBSP sugar

1 tsp salt

1 ¼ cup (or 2 ½ sticks) butter or a mix of butter and shortening

3-5 TBSP ice cold water

Pie Filling:

1 to 1¼ pounds of mixed meats (Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, ham, etc.)

1 small onion, chopped

1 pound fresh Easter Basket Cheese

1 pound ricotta cheese

1 cup shredded mozzarella

1 cup shredded provolone

¼ cup grated parmesan

3 eggs

Black pepper to taste

  1.  Cut the butter into the flour, salt and sugar mixture using a food processor.
  2. Sprinkle several spoonfuls of ice water on the mixture and mix together until the dough sticks together.
  3. Divide dough into two balls; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Brown the meat, breaking it up unto bite-sized pieces.  Add the onions to the mix
  5. Add the cooked meat and onions to the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  6. Roll out the dough into 1/8-inch-thick circles.
  7. Transfer one layer of dough to a deep-dish pie plate.
  8. Pack the meat and cheese mixture tightly into the pie dish.
  9. Top with the other dough circle and pinch the edges together.
  10. Cut slits on the top of the dough and brush with a wash of egg yolk and milk or cream.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.  Let sit for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from https://rightfromthecowsmouth.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/know-your-cheeses-basket-cheese-an-easter-favorite/

Originally appeared in March/April 2022 Goat Journal and vetted for accuracy.

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