Ricotta cheese. No big deal. Comes in a plastic tub. It’s a mild, white, soft cheese and you make lasagna with it.
“What kind of idiot would bother trying making it at home?” you ask, Fellow FoodBeest. This little novice cheese-maker, that’s who.
And while it’s easy to fail at it (I did!), the successful results are amazing.
On it’s face, it’s pretty simple. Milk. salt, vinegar or lemon juice. Boil. Stir. Strain. Eat.
So, following Ina Garten’s recipe, I heated up the milk for four minutes in a microwave with some cream and a little salt and lemon juice. I stirred it a bit and poured it into a strainer lined with four layers of cheesecloth. The hot milk poured right through with just a little bit of curd left in the strainer.
I put the strainer in a new bowl, added another layer of cheesecloth, poured the milk over it again. Nothing: Milk in bowl. A little yellowish muck in strainer.
Huh? Something was clearly missing. This was not the result I had anticipated. Total Failure. Disappointed, I tossed all of it.
I went to some of the people I trust on the home cooking board at Chowhound (if you love food and you don’t know this resource, you really should check it out) to find out what was missing. And I got good counsel.
- 1. Heat the milk and salt on the stove instead of the microwave. It will be harder to clean, but you can measure the temperature of the milk, which you want just below boiling (between 165- and 190-degrees).
- Vinegar has a more consistent level of acidity than lemon juice.
- Add the vinegar after the milk has boiled, then stir well but gently.
- Let the milk stand and develop curds (the milk curdles, Fellow Foodbeest).
When I tried it the second time, it was easy. It was fast. It was delicious. The ricotta was sweet and light and felt like a cloud in my mouth.
You can enjoy this vicariously, but I do recommend that you try it for yourself.
What You Need To Make Ricotta Cheese
3 C milk
1 C heavy cream
½ t salt
3 T white vinegar
How To Make Ricotta Cheese
Put four layers of cheesecloth inside a strainer (why do you think they call it cheesecloth!) over a large bowl. If you don’t have cheesecloth, you can use two layers of white (not printed) paper towels. Set it aside.
Pour the milk, cream and salt in a large saucepan. Heat to just below boiling. Stir occasionally to break up any film that forms on top and to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan. Some small bubbles may be forming around the edge.
You will need some kind of food thermometer. A candy thermometer is best, but I don’t have one so I used a meat thermometer that was close enough. Bring it up to between 165o – 190o.
Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, stir thoroughly and gently. Let it sit for five minutes. You will see the curds have formed and the liquid is clearer and perhaps slightly greenish.
Pour the curdled milk slowly and carefully into the lined strainer. Let it sit for one hour.
At the end of the hour you will have a white cheesy deposit in the strainer and the remaining liquid (whey) in the bowl. Remove the cheese from the strainer and put it in a clean container to serve from.
The resulting ricotta will be nothing like the stuff that comes from the container in the store. It is sweet and light with a wonderful soft mouth-feel.
The liquid that is left is called whey (yes, just like Little Miss Muffet) and, I am told, can be used as a nutritious substitute for water in soups, breads or pancakes. It can be frozen for future use. If you use it, please let us know how and what it was like.
How to use the ricotta, itself?
I toasted some brucetta slices and topped them with the brand new ricotta.
Then you can top the ricotta with good extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper – or honey (Mr. FB’s fave) with or without walnuts – or balsamic vinegar – or black Hawaiian lava salt – or olive oil and sliced grape tomatoes – or zucchini ribbons – or olive slices – or whatever else your heart and palate desire.
Or, you could make lasagna. Enjoy.