Posted by: scribe9 | February 18, 2010

Cheesecloth by any other name

I liked the look of a pasta dish on my daughter’s website (, which comes with a recipe for homemade ricotta. I’d never made ricotta before, but she said it was easy, so I was game.

The ingredients were easy–whole milk, regular yogurt, lemon juice, and salt. New Zealand is Dairyland in spades (more on that in another post), and we have a lemon tree in our front yard.

It was the cheesecloth that took a bit of finding. It’s not sold in neat little packages in the grocery store. When I asked where to find it, people told me, “Arthur’s.”

Arthur’s Emporium is a long narrow building off a side street downtown. It’s jammed with costumes, fake flowers, papers of all kinds, hardware, housewares and fabric. I asked the woman at the fabric counter where I could find cheesecloth. “Three rows that way, turn left, it’s under the lanterns, down by the floor.” The lanterns were easy to see–they were paper lanterns, strung above the middle of the rows.

I looked down near the floor on the shelves and found nothing I recognized. Then I saw a box labeled “muttoncloth” which was full of folded squares and small rolls of pale brown openwork knit fabric. I picked up a square and took it back to the fabric lady.

“Is this cheesecloth?”

“Yip–cheesecloth, mutton cloth, same thing.” Maybe they wrap legs of mutton in it.

I must have looked disappointed or puzzled, because then she asked, “Are you using it for straining food?” Yes. “Well, you want something less linty–muslin, on that bolt over there.” Sure enough, what she called muslin was exactly what I was looking for. (I know muslin as a light undyed cloth, fairly tightly woven.) That happens all the time here–the words are familiar, but used just enough differently to throw me off.

The ricotta turned out okay. And it would have been even better if I’d had the patience to separate more of the whey from the curds.


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