I discovered homemade ricotta about a month ago, and it was an absolute revelation. Like a call-your-mother-and-tell-her-immediately moment (although it must be said, she was much less excited about the whole thing). I was in shock, how could I have been cooking regularly for 12 years and not know how incredibly easy it is to make ricotta?
I was introduced to it by Alexandra’s Kitchen (a truly excellent blog, every single thing I’ve made from her has been a hit), who was thankfully as excited as myself by it. Homemade ricotta is much smoother and creamier than the store-bought variety, doesn’t require any fancy ingredients like rennet, and takes all of 30 minutes, start to finish.
The method is pretty basic: heat the milk, add the acid, and let it strain. This, technically speaking, actually isn’t real ricotta, which is made from the whey of other cheeses, but you’d have to be an actual Italian grandmother to tell the difference. The acid is pretty flexible. I use cider vinegar because that’s what I have around, but almost any vinegar will do (I wouldn’t use red wine vinegar purely for aesthetic reasons). You can also use lemon juice, although this is slightly less reliable as acidity varies lemon to lemon, or even buttermilk. If you want to know more about the different acids and the science behind ricotta, check out this exhaustive article. He also has come up with a fool-proof way to make ricotta in the microwave, but I don’t own any microwavable vessel large enough, so I stick with the old fashioned stove method.
I also generally don’t happen to have cheesecloth lying around, and was unable to find it even when I searched for it (the woman at my grocery store gave me a look like I had just asked if she knew where to find pig’s blood when I asked). Luckily, there are lots of alternatives! I’ve found that food safe paper towels work best, but you can also use (unused!) medical gauze (just be careful not to lose any small strips of gauze in the ricotta. ahem), coffee filters, or even (very clean!) handkerchiefs.
As for uses for the homemade ricotta, I personally struggle not to just eat it all straight from the sieve, but there are other, more socially acceptable ways. It is amazing on nice crunchy toast with some pepper on top, the texture combination is incredible. You can also make gnocchi from it, put it on top of pasta, or pizza. Bon Appetit has 12 enticing suggestions for you (I’m planning on making this one tonight). Now, go forth and make ricotta.
Makes about 2 cups
4 cups whole milk (avoid UHT)
2 cups cream
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
Mix the milk, cream, and salt in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally to avoid the milk boiling over (it’s not pretty).
While waiting, set up your straining station. Line a large sieve with 2 layers of cheesecloth (or your cheesecloth alternative, see note above) and set over a large bowl.
As soon as your milk comes to a boil (this should be at 180°F for you fancy people with instant read thermometers), turn off the heat and gently stir in the vinegar. Let it sit for a few minutes to separate into curds and whey.
Depending on how lazy you’re feeling, you can either just pour the whole pot into the sieve, or you can delicately ladle the curds in, trying to keep most of the whey in the pot. The second method is supposed to be better for the final texture, and quicken the straining process, but it’s up to you.
Let it strain anywhere between 5 minutes and overnight, depending on the texture you’d like your ricotta to be (emptying the whey when necessary). In 5 minutes it will still be very liquid, almost like a pudding. Left overnight (in the fridge), and it will lose almost all of its moisture. I generally leave it for about 15 minutes. Store covered and in the refrigerator. I’m told it keeps for at least 4 or 5 days, up to two weeks, but it never lasts that long in my house.