There is a saying out there, that every self-respecting food blogger will post about homemade ricotta at least once in their blogging-life.
As a fairly new blogger, I feel it is my duty not to disappoint and to best get that post out of the way then.
To be honest. I hadn’t realized just quite how easy it is to make “ricotta” at home, until I started researching recipes for ricotta gnudi that I had my heart set on making. Checking in with some fellow-foodie friends, they weren’t aware either.
Whole milk, a dash of lemon juice, a little salt, that’s it. Really? Yes really!
Ricotta is a versatile mild soft cheese from Italy, made from cow, goat, sheep or even buffalo milk whey. Whey is the liquid that is left over once creamy curds have formed in the cheese making process.
Generally, ricotta tends to be a soft scoop affair, akin to a cream cheese or a cottage cheese. There’s also a firmer version called “ricotta salata”, which you can cut into cubes like a feta. But that one is not so widely available outside Italy
If you have easy access to beautiful, authentically farm-produced ricotta, then no need to read on.
Many shop-bought ricottas have nasties added to them though: xantam gum, stabilizers, locust bean gum (???), guar gum and what-have-you-not. Quality ricotta should only include whey and an acid (lemon juice or vinegar), perhaps salt. If you can’t find that, make your own.
But even if there are no nasties it it, making your own puts you in full control of the flavour and texture. A lot of mass-produced ricotta certainly isn’t drained as lovingly as you and I would in our home kitchen. There are of course exceptions, but if you find you’ve been getting a gritty or rubbery texture when using it, drop that brand and make your own.
Homemade “ricotta” is made from best quality whole milk instead of whey. So to be fair, the homemade variety is officially a queso-fresco or paneer style curd cheese, rather than a true ricotta. But it serves very nicely in most recipes calling for ricotta, thank you very much.
This is not the time to go all health conscious with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, as it’s the cream content in the milk that will produce the ricotta-like curds.
So seek out the creamiest highest-fat-content milk you can find, from Jersey for instance for folk in the UK. If you can find a good whole goats milk, all the better for richness of flavour.
Remember to use your homemade “ricotta” within a few days, as it’s pretty much pure cream without preservatives, other than a little acid and salt.
Homemade “Ricotta” (makes approx. 200 gr)
1 l quality whole milk (not UHT. I used Daylesford organic unhomogenised whole milk)
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (or a neutral distilled vinegar, but I prefer lemon juice for taste. Some claim vinegar is more consistent in its results though, as lemons can vary wrt acidity)
a pinch of salt, max ¼ tsp (optional)
Heat the milk in a heavy based pan until the edges start to foam and steam rises (between 74 – 82 C, 94 C if unpasteurised). Don’t boil or burn it. I used my sous-vide and took it off as soon as the milk came to 82 C.
Take it off the heat and add 1 tbsp of lemon juice and salt (if using). Leave for at least 5 minutes and check if curds are forming. If you can still see quite a bit of milk without separation, add another tbsp of lemon juice and let it sit for up to 30 mins.
Spoon the curds into a fine sieve lined with muslin, layers of sturdy kitchen paper or a clean J-cloth. The longer you drain, the drier the curds. If you need your curds to be still quite wet, 5-10 mins draining is enough. Medium dry: 15-25 mins Else drain for a couple of hours or overnight in the fridge.
For my ricotta gnudi, I needed mine very dry, so I drained the curds for a good couple of hours and then gently squeezed the rest of the liquid out with the J-cloth
If you want the firmer ricotta salata, press the curds in a muslin or J-cloth with a heavy weight on top overnight in the fridge. Bowl underneath. Obviously.
Store in a jar or air-tight container in the fridge until using. Have a nibble of it while it is still lukewarm though. It’s delicious.
If you haven’t added (too much) salt, you can use the leftover whey in baking or other recipes instead of water. Many recipes call for a little salt anyway, so even with added salt, this is fine in most recipes.
UPDATE: I have since found a method to make “ricotta” very quickly in the microwave on Seriouseats. I haven’t tried this yet, but if you do and have success with it, let me know!