Homemade ricotta is one of the best kept secrets. It’s affordable, delicious, and oh so easy. Once you try ricotta from scratch you will never be able to go back to store bought. Technically, ricotta (which means “re-cooked” in Italian), is actually made out of whey left over from the production of a rennet-based cheese (such as mozzarella). But this process is long and laborious, so unless you’ve got a lot of free time on your hands, let’s take the short cut, shall we?
This process takes about 30 minutes to complete, and about an hour of hands-off time to let the ricotta drain. There are a couple of important things you need to know before you get started. First, the dairy. Your ricotta will be as good as the milk and cream that you use. You don’t necessarily need to spend a small fortune at a the farmer’s market if that is not within your budget, but at least try to buy a higher quality brand of dairy. (I bought mine from TJ’s) Most importantly, do not buy any dairy labeled “ultra-pasteurized” or “ultra-high temperature” for ricotta, or any cheese for that matter. Pasteurized milk is what you want. I repeat: DO NOT use ultra-pasteurized, or you will fail miserably and hate me forever.
There are numerous ricotta recipes making the rounds, but my favorite is an old Gourmet magazine that uses the acidity of fresh lemon juice to produce the ricotta. In terms of special equipment, you will need fine-mesh cheesecloth. However, if you have a very fine-mesh colander, you can get away without the cheesecloth at all.
Homemade Fresh Ricotta
Adapted from Gourmet
Yield: About 2 Cups
- 2 quarts whole milk (8 cups)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Line a large colander with one layer of fine-mesh cheesecloth or a few layers of standard cheese cloth. Place colander over a large bowl.
- Slowly bring 2 quarts milk, 1 cup cream, and 1/2 tsp salt to rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Resist temptation to crank the heat up to high.
- Once the milk mixture starts boiling, pour in 4 tbs lemon juice. Reduce to a simmer and gently stir until mixture curdles, about 2-4 minutes.
- Pour milk mixture into lined colander and let drain for up to an hour. For a creamier consistency, put the ricotta in a food processor with a splash of heavy cream and pulse a couple of times. Keep in air tight container in the fridge for up to two days.
Making ricotta requires minimal ingredients–essentially dairy and an acid. I like the taste of lemon in my ricotta, but you can also use good quality vinegar instead. Alternately, some recipes use buttermilk.
SLOWLY bring milk mixture to a boil, and be sure to keep stirring periodically so it doesn’t burn.
After you pour the fresh lemon juice in, turn the heat down to a simmer and stir very gently. The mixtures should begin to curdle after a minute or so. If your mixture doesn’t start to curdle, don’t freak out…like me! Just calmly pour in more lemon juice one teaspoon at a time until you see a reaction, and be sure the mixture is really simmering.
After a couple of minutes, the curds will separate from the whey, like so.
Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined colander and drain. You can place a bowl under the colander to catch the whey. I’ve heard that this can be used in place of buttermilk in recipes. Or as plant food. Or to thicken soups. I have yet to try this.
Now, what to do with all this ricotta? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Ricotta Gnocchi (delicious and easy! Post on this coming soon)
- Lemon Ricotta Cookies
- Serve warm as an appetizer with bread. Drizzle some olive oil on top and sprinkle with kosher salt. Add some fresh herbs, sun dried tomatoes, or toasted pine nuts if you have some handy.