Ricotta Cheese. Creamy, smooshy, dreamy homemade ricotta cheese. There’s nothing like it. There’s certainly nothing like it sitting on the shelf at your local chain grocery store. Those shelves are stocked with soulless tubs of skim milk ricotta which is a sad sad shadow of what ricotta can be.
I used grocery store ricotta for years, but had mostly relegated it for use as a filler in lasagna or in the odd dessert. It certainly lends a lovely quality to pasta dishes and whatnot, but I never understood the appeal of ricotta as the shining star of a dish. (That’s right, Gordon Ramsey, the shining star of this dish.) I actually remember how one of the South Beach Diet “approved dessert” was ricotta cheese, sweetener and lemon. Another involved cocoa powder and other stuff. I tried them and was kind of grossed out. It was just kind of grainy and unappealing and I couldn’t really get behind the whole thing. I also couldn’t figure out how that place in Little Italy got their cannoli filling to be so creamy and delicious. Basically, I found ricotta cheese to be kind of baffling.
Then I decided to make my own and my whole world changed. You may think I’m exaggerating, but seriously, I have a food blog. My world pretty much revolves around food and I’ve become a ricotta fiend. Making ricotta is so easy and the result is so delicious that I’ve sort of fallen into the habit of making it weekly and it is therefore showing up in more and more things that I cook. I’ve learned to alter the recipe below to tailor the ricotta to what I want to make and love having a jar of it on hand at all times.
Now, I call this a recipe, but it’s really more of a game of ratios. There are two separate ratios to think about when making ricotta: The first is how much acid you need. The rule of thumb I’ve settled on is that you need about 1 Tbsp of acid, usually lemon juice for me, for every 2 C of Milk/Cream you use. You can also use white wine vinegar. I just like the lemony flavor that the lemon juice imparts, but there are definitely times when the more subtle vinegar is appropriate as well.
The second ratio, milk to cream, basically determines what kind of ricotta you get. The more cream you use, the creamier and smoother the ricotta gets. The less cream, the firmer and drier the ricotta, with larger curds. When I’m in the mood for slathering ricotta on toast or basically making it the focus of a dish, I tend to use a ratio of 1 C of cream for every 2 C of milk. The result is a thick, creamy cheese with a consistency somewhere between sour cream and cream cheese. It is divine. When I’m cooking with the ricotta and the amount of moisture really matters, I tend to use less cream. Yesterday I use a gallon of whole milk and threw in the 3/4 C of cream sitting in my fridge. The resulting cheese was very dry and firm – perfect for using in the galettes I made for supper. Also good for lasagna and other baked pasta dishes. It is tasty and useful, but, not-so-secretly, my heart is with the creamier, dreamier ricotta.
So here it is, the mysteries of lovely, delectable homemade ricotta cheese laid bare before you. Buon Appetito!
4 C Whole Milk
2 C Cream
3 Tbsp Acid (Lemon Juice or White Wine Vinegar)
1/4 tsp Salt (or more or less, as you prefer)
Combine the milk and cream in a large pot and heat, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. You want to bring the temperature up to about 190ºF, which should be shortly after the milk starts to get foamy.
Once the milk hits that 190ºF, stir in the salt and remove the milk from the heat. Stir in the acid. Keep stirring for a short period until curds start to visibly form. This might be about 30 seconds or so. Then stop stirring and let the pot sit, undisturbed, for at least 10 minutes. I’ve let it sit for 30 minutes before because I’ve been doing other things. Basically, the milk and acid just need time to do their thing for a bit, so give them some space.
While the milk is heating, line a strainer with several layers of cheese cloth and put them both over a large bowl.
Once the curds have formed, carefully pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and, again, let it sit undisturbed for at least 30 minutes. I say “pour carefully” because I inevitably spill it everywhere. It just happens. After 30 minutes, you should have a pretty good ricotta cheese, but there’s still going to be a decent about of moisture. I generally let it it sit for 1 to 2 hours.
When you’re ready to call it quits for the straining, wrap the cheese up in the cloth and give it a good squeeze to get residual moisture out. Then transfer it to a jar or tupperware and use it as your little heart desires. Here are some suggestions: 1. Spread on toast, especially cranberry walnut toast. Also good with honey drizzled over it. 2. Use in all kinds of pasta dishes. It makes them creamy and also gives a protein boost. 3. Pastries. ‘Nuff said. 4. Eat with fruit, as you might yogurt. 5. Put some on your dog’s nose and watch him lick it off. Seriously entertaining.
So…to sum it up, here’s how you make ricotta: heat, stir, wait, pour, wait, eat. Rock on.
- 4 C Whole Milk
- 2 C Cream
- 3 Tbsp Acid (Lemon Juice or White Wine Vinegar)
- ¼ tsp Salt (or more or less, as you prefer)
- Cheese Cloth
- Combine the milk and cream in a large pot and heat, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. You want to bring the temperature up to about 190ºF, which should be shortly after the milk starts to get foamy.
- While the milk is heating, line a strainer with several layers of cheese cloth and put them both over a large bowl.
- Once the milk hits that 190ºF, stir in the salt and remove the milk from the heat. Stir in the acid. Keep stirring for a short period until curds start to visibly form.
- Let the pot sit, undisturbed, for 10 to 30 minutes.
- Once the curds have formed, carefully pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and, again, let it sit undisturbed for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how dry you like your ricotta.
- Wrap the cheese up in the cloth and give it a good squeeze to get residual moisture out. Then transfer it to a jar or tupperware and store in the refrigerator.