Though ricotta is often referred to as a cheese, it is actually a cheese byproduct, made by reheating the whey that is drained from the curds once the cheese is made. This doesn't mean one cannot make it from milk, however. This recipe is by Grace Pilato, whose book, "Cooking with Grace," (St. Martin's Press, 2001) is very nice.
Grace kindly gave me permission to quote her:
I have worked on many variations of this recipe - trying it over and over again trying to get the right combination of taste, consistency, and ease of preparation. I have used readily available enzymes from the grocery store, vegetable enzymes from cheese distributors, fresh lemon juice, citric acid from the drug store, yogurt, and run-of-the mill, inexpensive white distilled vinegar.
This recipe is definitely a winner-a perfect ten. The vinegar in this preparation is what makes the milk form curds. If there is too little vinegar, the curds will not fully form and you will get a smaller yield. If there is too much vinegar, you will get an acidic tasting ricotta. Accordingly, the vinegar should not exceed 5 percent of the volume of moisture.
Ricotta is so easy to make and the taste so special that you will want to make it weekly to have on hand for eating and cooking. You will need to have a cooking thermometer for your first couple of attempts. The Taylor instant read pocket thermometer is my preference. It is reliable, inexpensive, and compact.
Yield: 4 cups
Preparation Time: 45 minutes
- 1 gallon whole pasteurized milk
- 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (more if you want a saltier taste and if you are not going to use it for desserts)
- Rinse the inside of the pot you intend to use with cold water (this helps prevent the milk from scorching). Place 1 gallon milk in large, heavy non-reactive pot on medium heat. Add salt and stir briefly. Allow milk to heat up slowly, stirring occasionally. Soon you will notice steam start to form above the surface and tiny bubbles appearing on the milk. You want it to reach 180-185 degrees, near scalding temperature, just before it comes to a boil. Check the temperature with your thermometer.
- When it reaches the correct temperature, take the pot off the burner, add the vinegar and stir gently for only one minute. Add salt. You will notice curds forming immediately. Cover with a dry clean dish towel and allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for a couple of hours. You can also begin preparing your ricotta in the morning before going to work and let it sit until you come home.
- When the ricotta has rested for 2 hours or more, take a piece of cheesecloth, dampen it and place it inside a colander. With a slotted spoon, ladle out the ricotta into the prepared colander. Place the colander with ricotta inside of a larger pan so it can drain freely. Let it drain for two hours or so depending on how creamy or dry you want your cheese to be.
- Lift the cheesecloth up by the four corners and twist gently. If the liquid runs clear, squeeze a little more. If the liquid runs milky, there is no more need to squeeze. Place in a tight sealed container. Refrigerate. It will keep for up to 7 days. Ricotta does not freeze well.
I would advise against the use of low fat or part skim milk in making the ricotta. The flavor comes from the cream in the whole milk. For desserts, add 1 pint heavy whipping cream along with the milk. I use this variation when I am making ricotta for a dessert filling such as cannoli, cassata, or cream puffs. It is richer, creamier, and a bit more decadent.