Homemade Ricotta Cheese

DSC_0030I took a cheese making class a few years ago. We learned how to make chevre, yogurt, sour cream, feta, cheddar and ricotta. The only cheese I have made since is ricotta. I need to try making other cheeses. Someday.

Cheese is one of those things that is so easy to buy in the store. And regular commercial cheese is pretty reasonably priced, and it can be pretty good. Cheese from the grocery store specialty cheese section and even cheese shops is even better, and still not that expensive.

Ricotta cheese is especially reasonably priced, so it is a toss-up if you want to make ricotta to save money. It is cheaper to make your own, if you are going strictly on the price of ingredients, but you do have to factor in your time.

Homemade ricotta is sweeter and creamier than commercial ricotta. It tastes more like milk than commercial cheese. Is the difference huge? No. Do I make all the ricotta we eat? No. But it is fun to make it sometimes, just to do it. There is something fulfilling about learning how to make a food we usually buy, and then doing it.

We use a lot of ricotta cheese – in stuffed shells, eggplant lasagna and on pizza. Occasionally we use it in desserts and once we used it in breakfast crepes. Homemade ricotta takes these dishes to a whole new level. Some of that might be psychological, knowing that I made that cheese myself. But the cheese does taste fresher and is creamier than commercial ricotta.

The only special equipment you need to make your own ricotta is a candy thermometer and some cheesecloth, both of which you can pick up at the grocery store. The process isn’t complicated and requires no special skills. In just about an hour you can make your own cheese.

Bring out your inner dairymaid and make some ricotta cheese. Buy some milk, block off an hour and get started.

Download or print the recipe here.

Ricotta Cheese
From The Cook’s Life
Makes about 1 cup, easy to double

You need to use pure salt in this recipe; iodine or other additives can give the cheese an odd flavor. Buy fine sea salt or other salt that is just salt, read the label to check for any additives. I use fine sea salt, which has slightly larger grains than table salt. If yours is finer, use less than ¼ teaspoon. Don’t use coarse salt without grinding it first or it won’t dissolve well.

4 cups whole milk
2-3 tablespoons white vinegar, approximately
¼ teaspoon salt, approximately (see head note)

Special equipment:
Candy thermometer
Cheesecloth
Colander

Pour the milk into a large pot, at least 3 quarts, though bigger is fine. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pot and turn the heat to medium.

Fold the cheesecloth in half and line the colander with it. Set it on top of a large bowl that is a smaller diameter than the colander so the colander rests on top of the bowl, or down inside it just a bit. You need height so the cheese can drain.

Stir the milk gently and watch it as it gets warmer. Stir more often as it gets warmer, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up – you risk scorching the milk.

Heat the milk it until it reaches 165-180° F. My stove took 15 minutes to reach 165° and 20 minutes to reach 180°.

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When the milk is at least 165°, add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and stir. The milk should separate into white curds that look like cottage cheese, and greenish liquid. The liquid is whey. If the milk doesn’t separate after 1 minute of stirring, add another tablespoon of vinegar and stir for another minute. If you don’t have definite separation after the additional vinegar, add more vinegar, a teaspoon at a time and stir for a minute after each addition. Never fear, it will separate.

Take the pan off the heat and stir occasionally for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, slowly pour the curds and whey through the cheesecloth into the bowl. Pour slowly so you don’t splash – everything is still hot at this point. Let the curds drain for about 5 minutes.

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After 5 minutes, the curds should be drained and look like ricotta cheese. If they still look wet, give them a few more minutes to drain. Scrape the ricotta off the cheesecloth and into a small bowl. There will be about 3 cups of whey in the large bowl. Don’t throw it away – see note at the end for ways to store and use it.

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Add ⅛ teaspoon salt to the cheese and stir. Taste the ricotta. If it tastes salty to you, stop adding salt. If it’s not salty enough, add another ⅛ teaspoon salt and stir and taste again. Add a touch more salt, if it still doesn’t taste salty to you.

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Stir gently for 5-10 minutes. The curds will get smaller and the cheese will get amazingly creamy as you stir.

Congratulations, you have made ricotta cheese!

The whey:
You will have about 3 cups of whey left over. Don’t throw it away. Store it in a jar or container in the fridge for up to a week. Freeze it for longer storage. Use it instead of milk or buttermilk in pancakes, muffins or bread.

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