I can't believe it's not difficult: Home-made Ricotta

I read Bittman's NY Times Blog, Discovering Ricotta, and was inspired to give it a shot. The directions were not precise enough for my taste, so I dug around the web and found the Home-made Ricotta page on About.com (which I will excerpt, below).

I tried it, succeded and soon I had my sister- and mother-in-laws making it. I've been making it about once a week for 6 month- and with all that has been going on, plus two small children it should attest to how easy it really is!

Why would you want to make your own ricotta? Well, if you live in Italy... there is no need to! But if you live anywhere else OR you have a special diet (no salt or no lactose) OR you want BIO/Organic ricotta OR you just want to show off and impress your friends then... you will want to!

Technically speaking, ricotta is made from the by-product of making mozzarella. However, you can also make it straight from milk - this is not quite as fine as the original.

When you think about making this "cheese" all kinds of equipment, inoculates and whatever else comes to mind. But in reality, the only specialized equipment you need is cheesecloth - which can be substituted by a kitchen towel with a wide weave or a fine strainer- and a thermometer - which can also be skipped (see my notes below).

Make your own Ricotta
My notes are in black, the excerpted portions from Home-made Ricotta page on About.com are in gray. The photos are mine. Personally, the quantity is quite large for me, so I halve it. Just replace the gallon with two quarts or the four liters with two and halve everything else.
1 gallon whole pasteurized milk or 4lt (this can be lactose free milk, bio milk, even preserved milk - though I recommend the freshest milk you can find, check the expiration dates)
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar or 150ml
1/4 teaspoon salt (more if you want a saltier taste and if you are not going to use it for desserts) you can leave out the salt entirely if your diet requires it
-Rinse the inside of the pot you intend to use with cold water (this helps prevent the milk from scorching).
-Place 1 gallon milk in large, heavy non-reactive pot on medium heat. Add salt and stir briefly.
-Allow milk to heat up slowly, stirring occasionally. Soon you will notice steam start to form above the surface and tiny bubbles appearing on the milk. You want it to reach 180-185 degrees, near scalding temperature, just before it comes to a boil. Check the temperature with your thermometer.
If you do not have a thermometer on hand, as soon as a light film forms at the top..
-When it reaches the correct temperature, take the pot off the burner, add the vinegar and stir gently for only one minute. Add salt. You will notice curds forming immediately.

- Cover with a dry clean dish towel and allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for a couple of hours. You can also begin preparing your ricotta in the morning before going to work and let it sit until you come home.
- When the ricotta has rested for 2 hours or more, take a piece of cheesecloth, dampen it and place it inside a colander. With a slotted spoon, ladle out the ricotta into the prepared colander. Place the colander with ricotta inside of a larger pan so it can drain freely. Let it drain for two hours or so depending on how creamy or dry you want your cheese to be.
Personally, I do not wait more than 10 minutes. It all depends on how fine the mesh on your towel/cheesecloth is.

-Lift the cheesecloth up by the four corners and twist gently. If the liquid runs clear, squeeze a little more. If the liquid runs milky, there is no more need to squeeze.

- Place in a tight sealed container. Refrigerate. It will keep for up to 7 days. Ricotta does not freeze well.

Notes I would advise against the use of low fat or part skim milk in making the ricotta. The flavor comes from the cream in the whole milk. For desserts, add 1 pint heavy whipping cream along with the milk. I use this variation when I am making ricotta for a dessert filling such as cannoli, cassata, or cream puffs. It is richer, creamier, and a bit more decadent.

Serve it as-is with some fragrant olive oil and bread as an appetizer. Or, top a pizza with it instead of using mozzerella. Or, grind in some black pepper and add cubed prosciutto to make a super-delicious pasta sauce. Or, substitute the store-bought stuff in your favorite recipe.

Buon Appetito!


Anonymous said...

Laura, I'm anxious to make some ricotta! Just to clarify, are you adding salt twice? Once just before heating the milk and again when adding the vinegar?

Laura @ Hip Pressure Cooking said...

The double salting is from the original recipe that I copied from About.com (since it is gray). It's probably a type-o on their part. I only add the salt once with the vinegar.

Please come back to let me know how you liked it!



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the speedy reply, Laura. I'll be sure to add the salt with the vinegar. I have seen some ricotta recipes that use lemon juice instead of the vinegar; a matter of taste, I assume.