Homemade Cheese: Whole-Milk Ricotta

Ricotta is stupid easy to make. I mean, stupid stupid easy.

Today, husband and I went grocery shopping, and we were deciding between buying another gallon of milk to make cheese, or shelling out seven bucks for about 4 oz of decent ricotta. I’ll give you three guesses at what we decided on, and the first two don’t count.

If you’re going to make any cheese in your life, and you want something pretty much foolproof, ricotta is the way to go. (Paneer is pretty foolproof, as well, but is only slightly more complicated and takes longer. Another post, another time.) Why? Ricotta has very few ingredients, takes very little time as cheeses go, and makes a pretty good amount for many uses. You can add tasty things, like herbs, to it, customize it with different acids for flavor, and…well, for goodness sakes, it’s ricotta – you can use it for dessert, dinner, or just eating as a snack!

Because ricotta has so few ingredients, I suggest getting the best milk you can – one that actually has flavor. And while you can use not-whole milk for part-skim ricotta, I, as I have said before, am all about whole milk for flavor and creaminess.

For just about any cheese, the basic process goes like so:

  1. Heat milk or dairy product.
  2. Add coagulant, culture, etc.
  3. Wait.
  4. Drain and/or press, and store.

So, in pictures, the process of ricotta looks a little like so:

Heat milk. A candy thermometer is your friend.
Add acid. I used apple cider vinegar this time. Pouring the liquid through a slotted spoon helps the acid to distribute evenly over the milk.
Stir gently. The curds will start developing immediately after you pour in the acidic element.
Mmmm, curds. Stir until the liquid turns fairly clear (or translucent).
Drain. Also, you may be asking yourself: is that a do-rag? Yes, it is, and it makes an excellent machine-washable, reusable cheesecloth. Just don’t wear it after making cheese. Or do. I don’t care.

Got it? Okay – onto the recipe!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

You will need:

  • 1 gallon milk, preferably whole
  • 1/4-1/2 c acid (lemon juice, vinegar, red wine, orange juice – seriously, something acidic will do the trick)
  • salt to taste

Directions:

  1. In a large pot (6 quart or larger), heat milk to 180-185 degrees over medium heat, stirring frequently. If the milk begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, lower the temperature and stir more frequently. Note: If you’re starting with cold milk, this process can take up to an hour to do properly because, unlike boiling water, you do NOT want to heat milk too quickly, lest you get burned milk chunks on the bottom of your pan and unevenly heated milk. Take your time with this step. However, browned milk will not prevent ricotta from happening; it’s just not great eats.
  2. Once the milk reaches temperature, remove it from the heat and gently stir in the vinegar or acidic liquid into the pot. The milk will immediately begin separating into curds and whey.
  3. Stir gently for about one minute, or until the whey turns translucent yellow or clear-ish.
  4. Let the curds sit in the whey for about ten minutes.
  5. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place the colander either in a large pot or the sink. Wet the cheesecloth, then gently scoop the curds into the colander. Pour the whey and the smaller curds gently over the large curds in the colander.
  6. Allow the curds to drain for 15-30 minutes, depending on what texture you want for your ricotta. (Less time = looser ricotta)
  7. Salt if you want. I like salt, but it depends on what I’m doing with the cheese. Dessert ricotta = no salt.
  8. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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