Milk, lemon juice and about a half-hour of your time – that’s all you need to make fresh, creamy homemade ricotta.
And trust me, once you make your own ricotta, it’s hard to go back to the stuff from the tub.
When I say this only takes a half hour, I should clarify that most of that time is actually hands off. You bring the milk almost to a simmer, add lemon juice or vinegar, then let it sit while you work on the rest of dinner. It takes 10 minutes or to strain the curds, and then the ricotta is ready for lasagne, pizza or whatever devious and delicious plans you have in store.
This process works best if you’re using whole milk, though I’ve had success with 2 percent. Avoid skim or nonfat milk, as there just isn’t enough milk fat left in the milk to separate into curds and whey. Also avoid using ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk, as this process changes the protein structure of the milk and prevents it from separating.
Unfortunately, many organic milks are UHT pasteurized. If organic ricotta is your aim, check the carton before buying.
Homemade ricotta has better texture and flavor than anything I’ve ever bought at the grocery store. I suspect this because it’s freshly made. I like that I can control just how wet or dry the ricotta is simply by how long I let it drain – I like wetter, looser ricotta for things like pizzas and drier, firmer ricotta for cannoli and other desserts. If you wrap the drained ricotta in cheese cloth and press it beneath a weighted plate in the refrigerator overnight, you can also make a simple ricotta salata, paneer, queso fresco or other fresh farmer’s cheese.
I also like that I can make exactly the amount of ricotta that I need. A half-gallon of milk makes about 2 cups of ricotta, depending on how long I let it drain, and the recipe can be scaled up or down to fit my recipe. Of course, if and when I do have leftover ricotta, there are plenty of ways to use up those last few dabs.
Making ricotta also gives you a bonus: the leftover whey. This whey is fantastic in baked goods. Try using it instead of water in your next batch of bread or pizza dough. You can also use a few spoonfuls of whey to jump-start the lacto-fermentation process when making things like sauerkraut and kvass.
I should add that this is a simplified method intended for making a quick batch of ricotta at home. Traditionally, ricotta is made by heating the whey left from other cheese-making projects (those made by using starter cultures and rennet). If you have whey of this type, then by all means, try making traditional ricotta.
Emma Christensen is recipe editor for TheKitchn.com, a home-cooking website.
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