Today was a cool, overcast day that made me crave something smooth and creamy. Hmmm….how about ricotta? I know what you probably are thinking – smooth and creamy ricotta?? And you are right – store bought is nothing like that. But home-made one … Now that’s a different story.
For many people thinking of ricotta will bring up images of plastic canisters neatly lining refrigerated shelf of a nearby supermarket. I used to buy a few of those cartons myself on my every trip. And then one day, I had a trip down the memory lane – my Mom’s bowl full of creamy clouds for Sunday breakfast.
There are so many things that this wonderful soft cheese can be used in: spreads, desserts, snacks, cookies. Ooh, my imagination was starting to go into an overdrive. Not in the mood to cook? Not a problem – just spread it on your toast, and top it with your favorite jam, or even better, honey!
I had a very good recollection (or so it seemed!) of my Mom making ricotta cheese. The steps seemed very easy. So I grabbed a gallon of milk from the refrigerator and started making ricotta cheese already thinking of a thick slice of sourdough bread topped with ricotta and strawberry jam. Can life get any better than that?
Did anyone ever tell you not to daydream too much when cooking something for the first time, or else? I got ‘or else’ the first time I attempted to make ricotta – laughable yield and grainy consistency. What happened? When your head is in the clouds you can’t answer that question, can you? But I was determined to get the creamy ricotta I was dreaming about. It took me a few tries to figure out the details, but, finally I got it. Now, every time I make it I get a creamy and smooth ricotta. Here, try it – you won’t be disappointed!
P.S. Some say that the best time to eat ricotta is when it is still warm. Others argue that it is at its best after chilling in the refrigerator for at least 4-5 hours. I like it both ways.
- for creamiest and smoothest results, use whole milk. Preferably organic. You can use 2% milk too but the results will be somewhat inferior
- yield of ricotta depends on the fat content of milk. Comparatively speaking, you will get more ricotta from whole milk then from 2% milk
- start with the first step of the recipe early in a day – there is a required time for milk to “ripen”. Plus if you like ricotta cold, it will need to chill in a refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
- ricotta cheese may seem like a very ‘step-‘ and ‘temperature-sensitive recipe, but I assure you that it is not. It is simple to make and you get to reward yourself with a delicious end result even if you mess up with the temperature for the first try. So, roll those sleeves up and give it a try!
Home-Made Ricotta Cheese
Ingredients & Equipment:
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup fresh, cold milk
- cheesecloth or muslin (I prefer butter muslin – easier to clean up)
- twine or rubber band
- Pour 1 gallon of milk into a pan and slowly heat it up over a very low heat to 100ºF (38ºC). Remember, slow is the key here. If you temperature is off by 2-3 degrees not a big deal. You don’t have to stir milk often, heat is low enough not to cause any scorching of milk at the bottom.
- Once milk reached 100ºF (38ºC), close the lid and let milk sit for 4-5 hours undisturbed.
- Remove the lid and add salt. Mix with a spatula or spoon.
- Over a low-medium heat, slowly heat the milk to 210 ºF (99ºC). Stirring it from time to time. Once milk reaches reaches 200ºF (93ºC) start stirring it more frequently, keeping a very close eye on the temperature so milk doesn’t escape the confines of your pan! 🙂 This happens quickly and quietly – my milk does not even utter a peep! Oh, how many times did I have to clean up a mess I made on my cook top?
- Once milk had safely reached 210ºF (99ºC), turn the heat off. Slowly pour vinegar while constantly stirring milk with an up and down motion without breaking the surface with your spoon.
- As you add vinegar, you will start to notice separation of milk curds and whey (clear liquid with greenish tint). At that time, you can stop stirring.
- After all of the vinegar is added allow the milk to sit in the pan undisturbed for 3-5 minutes.
- Meantime, line a colander with cheesecloth/muslin and place it in the sink. Drain the entire content of the pan.
- Gather all 4 corners of the cheesecloth. I usually form a ball of draining ricotta on the bottom of it and tie the cloth with a rubber band. Then I take any 2 of the corners/ bunny ears and tie them together at the tip. Check for a secure knot and hang it to drain.
- Once the whey stops dripping and the cheese is still nicely warm (90-105ºF / 32-38ºC), you are ready to whip it. Don’t let the cheese to cool off too much and even dry. Though it will still be fine, it won’t come out buttery smooth.
- Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth and cut it into very large cubes. Place them into a food processor. Turn it on and process for 5-7 seconds. Immediately start adding 1/4 cup of milk very slowly. This allows the cheese to be broken into smaller particles. Process for 20-30 sec. If you see that a thick ball is starting to form, you simply don’t have enough milk. So just add some more. It is important to add milk gradually and slowly (around 1/8 cup, then wait for the processor to mix it in). If you add too quickly, you will end up with grainy ricotta. Periodically open the processor and scrub the walls with a spatula to ensure even processing. You will start to notice that ricotta will take on a silky, smooth appearance when you are close to the end.
- Spoon the contents into a serving dish.
*** Remember, when you whip ricotta, it is still warm. So, the consistency that you will get in your blender is thinner than the final product. As ricotta cools in the refrigerator, it will solidify more. I use the amount of milk listed in the recipe to create the consistency that my family and I prefer (like a spreadable cheese). But, feel free to experiment. If you want your ricotta to be thicker, just reduce the amount of cold milk to be added at the end. For example, if I am making ricotta for Ricotta Gnocchi, I will use very small amount of milk – just enough to break up the clumps. If it is a thinner version that you like (almost to resemble sour cream consistency), just add more milk. Be careful here not to add too much! You don’t want the milk to separate away and to pool around the edges of your serving dish. Once again, don’t forget – add milk slowly to let it work itself into smaller clumps of cheese making ricotta very SMOOTH at the end.
To store ricotta: If it is still warm, let it cool for 5-10 min before refrigerating it. Chill for several hours or overnight (ricotta will have a somewhat glassy sheen on top to reward you for that). Ricotta can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.