The first time I made Ricotta was in 2008, when I was team-teaching a class for a group of new cheesemongers. I was 2 months into a new job, and was eager to teach what I knew, and learn new tricks of the trade. The Cheesemaking segment was taught by a colleague, and I was very impressed with how easy it was: 4 ingredients, plus heat and time. The demonstration really helped the students understand the alchemy of cheese- it’s a very effective exercise, and made me realize that converting milk is possible in my own kitchen.
One disclaimer- this isn’t actually Ricotta. Traditionally, Ricotta is made from the whey left over from making other cheeses, such as Parmigiano Reggiano. The word Ricotta translates from Italian as “re-cooked”. What I’m making here is often labeled “Whole Milk Ricotta” at the store, but even the best store product can’t come close to the smooth, sweet creaminess of homemade.
It’s tomato season down south- just. And to me, tomato season means caprese salad. But I had a problem- the mozzarella at my local stores is all flavorless, gummy and cryovac’ed. My friend Mandy is coming up from Charleston for the night, and I want to make a special dinner for us to enjoy overlooking the marsh. I decided instead to make Ricotta to serve with some of the amazing tomatoes I got from the farmers market, and the basil from the garden.
First step, heat 3.5 cups of milk, 0.5 cups heavy cream and a half tsp coarse salt to 190 degrees
Juice lemons to get 3 Tbs. Depending on your lemons, this is usually about a lemon and a half. As soon as your milk gets to 190, it will look a little foamy. Remove from the heat, and immediately add the lemon juice and stir once to incorporate and then let the acid do it’s thing. Note: some recipes call for vinegar as the coagulant, for many good reasons- the best of which is that vinegar is a consistent acidity. But I like lemon juice, because I just like lemons. I like the bit of bright flavor it imparts better than the flavor of the vinegar. I also appreciate just using a fresh beautiful fruit, rather than a processed product.
Let sit for 5-7 minutes to acidify the milk. When you gently drag a spoon through the mix, you should see the thin whey separate from the curd. This is a lactic set, meaning it’s coagulated with acid, so the curd is loose and fragile. Be kind as you ladle it into a strainer lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth over a bowl to catch the whey.
Let this sit for at least 15 minutes. If you want a firmer cheese, let it sit longer. You can even press this to make paneer. I let this drain for about 30 minutes, as I still wanted it to be creamy and moist. I removed it to a ramekin to chill for 2 hours while I turned my attentions to other elements of dinner.
Mandy arrived safely, the Prosecco was poured, and we enjoyed both while watching the pelicans, herons and egrets hunt for their dinners.
3.5 cups whole milk (not UHT or shelf stable milk)
0.5 cups heavy cream
0.5 tsp coarse salt
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
But what about that leftover whey? Waste not! There are many things you can do with it- I usually freeze it initially, while I decide what to use it for. You can use it in place of/in addition to water for making oatmeal, grits, rice, or even pasta water. It’s an excellent marinade for pork or chicken. But my favorite use, because I’m crazy that way- dogs love it!