Ricotta is easy and inexpensive to make. (Kate Lawson / The Detroit News)
Fresh ricotta cheese is one of my favorite indulgences. I use it in a variety of dishes or simply enjoy it drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and smeared on a slice of toasted baguette. I don’t care for the processed kind, rather seeking out the block of fresh cheese at a specialty market.
But last week when I went to purchase some, I did a double take at the price. Somehow this indulgence didn’t fit my budget and I had to pass it by. I remembered reading about a recipe for making ricotta at home, so I did some research and at my next market visit, I purchased a half-gallon of whole milk instead. Then I got busy making my own fresh ricotta.
The process is easy: Simply bring the milk to a high temperature (but not boiling), add lemon juice or vinegar and some salt, strain and chill. My first attempt was a huge success, and my only difficulty was keeping my self-restraint, as I could’ve consumed the whole batch in one sitting. After I smeared some on several baguette slices, I added some to a salad and used some in my favorite lasagna recipe. This fresh ricotta is also in the lentil meatball recipe on today’s meatball story.
This is nice to have on hand in the fridge, as it keeps for up to a week. You won’t catch me purchasing the store ricotta anymore, not when it’s so easy — and affordable — to make my own.
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
½ gallon whole milk, not UHT pasteurized (see note)
1⁄3 cup lemon juice (from 1 ½ to 2 lemons) or 1⁄3 cup distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt, optional
Note: Pasteurized milk is fine to use for making ricotta, but using UHT (Ultra High Temperature) pasteurized milk changes the protein structure of the milk, preventing it from separating.
Pour the milk into a 4-quart pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 195-200 degrees F, monitoring the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. The milk will get foamy and start to steam; remove it from heat if it starts to boil. Remove the milk from heat, pour in the lemon juice or vinegar and the salt. Stir gently just to combine.
Let the pot of milk sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. After this time, the milk should have separated into clumps of milky white curds and thin, watery, yellow-colored whey — dip your slotted spoon into the mix to check. If you still see a lot of un-separated milk, add another tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and wait a few more minutes.
Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheese cloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer. (Removing the big curds first helps keep them from splashing and making a mess as you pour.)
Let the ricotta drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.
Fresh ricotta can be used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week. Makes 2 cups or 8 servings.
Per serving (per ¼ cup): 152 calories; 8 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 47 percent calories from fat); 12 g carbohydrates; 33 mg cholesterol; 410 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 0 g fiber.