Everyone has their cheese favorites. While I have a long list of favorite cheeses, I use ricotta in a lot of my recipes and wanted to learn how to make it. I actually took a class at Portland Homestead Supply Co which was a blast! Since then hardly a week goes by without making a batch of ricotta. It’s so easy that a six year old can make it with you – I speak from experience.
A few important tips before we start:
MILK: Grocery store milk works fine. In my neck of the woods Fred Meyer brand whole milk works great. I tried using Walmart brand milk and did not get the best results.
SALT: I use cheese salt, but I’ve heard from others that regular granulated salt works okay.
LEMON JUICE: This is really the lynchpin to curdling the milk. Only use fresh squeezed lemon juice. I tried bottled lemon juice once and I didn’t like how it curdled the milk. The process took longer and the finished product was inferior for me.
Start with clean utensils, pans, and storage bowl. I actually sterilize the utensils, and counter top. It’s important not to touch the cheese ingredients with your hands as that can contaminate the mixture.
Okay, now we can get started making cheese. Set aside an hour. Once you’ve made this recipe a few times, you will probably be able to shave that time down to 45 minutes.
- • 1/2 gallon of whole milk (freshest you can find)
- • 1/2 cup cream (not super homogenized)
- • 1 teaspoon cheese salt
- • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice strained (1-2 lemons)
- In heavy pot heat the milk, cream and salt on low. Do not allow the milk to boil.
- Stir the milk slowly, keeping it in motion. Don't let milk mixture stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
- When milk reaches 185-190 degrees F add the lemon juice all at once. The mixture will curdle instantly - tiny white particles floating in the whey.
- Stop stirring at this point and remove from the heat, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place a bowl underneath to catch the whey.
- Let drain until most of the whey is gone.
- Ladle the ricotta into a storage container. Add back some whey if consistency seems too thick.
- • 1 large aluminum sauce pan
- • Good quality cheese cloth (like 90 grade butter muslin)
- • Cheese thermometer (don't use a candy thermometer)
- • Large plastic stirring spoon that can tolerate high temperatures
- • Colander to drain the curds from the whey
Ricotta will make about 1 lb of cheese and keep refrigerated for about five days. There are ways to use the whey leftover from making the cheese. One of my favorite things to do is spread the whey in our garden. The vegetables love it!
There are so many great ways to use fresh ricotta.
When we were in Sicily we learned about a favorite breakfast treat of the locals. They dish up a portion of ricotta and top it with orange honey (regional speciality) and a dash of cinnamon. One of my favorites is spreading it on a piece of toast in the morning and adding honey and cinnamon. Oh so good.
I sometimes substitute ricotta for cottage cheese in some recipes. It’s much lighter and adds a distinctive flavor. Another easy recipe:
- • 1 large garlic head
- • Olive oil
- • Salt and pepper
- • 12 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
- • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
- • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit.
- Cut off top quarter of garlic head. Drizzle exposed cloves lightly with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
- Wrap tightly in aluminum foil (or use a stone garlic baker) and bake until garlic turns light golden and has completely softened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool.
- Squeeze garlic from skins.
- Using the side of a knife, mash roasted garlic into a paste, and add to a medium bowl.
- Fold in ricotta, Parmesan, mayonnaise, herbs, and lemon zest.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Serve with pretzels, crackers, bread, crudité, or other dippers.