Ricotta cheese is creamy, spreadable, and a bit addictive. Its zingy flavor goes well with savory and sweet dishes. Its soft texture gives a lightness to baked items. This recipe for Ricotta utilizes entire milk, as well as heavy cream, resulting in the most delicious cheese that can be spread.
What Is Ricotta Cheese?
True Italian Ricotta is a fresh, soft, white cheese made from cow’s milk and leftover whey—the watery part of milk that’s separated from the curds during cheesemaking. Rather than throw away this nutritious milk water, Italian cheesemakers developed Ricotta by heating whey near a boil, which caused it to thicken and form a soft cheese.
Like paneer, cottage cheese, halloumi, queso blanco, and other fresh cheeses, Ricotta can be heated without melting, making it a great option for filled pasta like ravioli, as well as baked goods like cannoli and cheesecake.
How to Make Whey for Ricotta Cheese
Traditional cheesemakers in Italy and elsewhere make ricotta cheese using whey as their base. Here’s how they do it.
Start with pasteurized milk. If you’re buying your milk from the grocery store, it will be pasteurized already. (If you’re using fresh milk, you’ll need to pasteurize it yourself by heating the milk to 150ºF for at least 30 minutes or 162ºF for at least 15 seconds. Allow the milk to cool before proceeding to the next step.)
Curdle the milk. Add a starter bacteria to the milk, along with rennet enzymes (produced in the stomachs of ruminant mammals like cows). This will cause the milk to acidify and coagulate into watery whey and solid curds.
To make traditional Ricotta from whey, heat the whey until it’s almost boiling, then cover and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes. This will cause the whey to curdle a second time. The resulting curd is then drained, resulting in Ricotta.
Unless you happen to have whey leftover from other cheesemaking projects, however, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to dive into the traditional-style ricotta-making process above. Luckily, there’s another way to make your Ricotta (or ricotta-like) cheese at home.
The 3 Basic Ingredients of Ricotta Cheese
Homemade fresh Ricotta is only three ingredients away:
Whole milk is the basis of this cheese. Avoid ultra-pasteurized milk, which does not curdle properly. (You can use low-fat milk, but the resulting cheese won’t taste as rich as whole-milk Ricotta.)
Citric acid makes the milk curdle or separate into curds and whey. You can also use lemon juice or white vinegar, but citric acid has a more subtle flavor and will produce the best Ricotta. You can buy citric acid online.
Heavy cream is added at the end of the process to make the curds creamy. This yields a texture more like Ricotta than farmer’s cheese (which is actually what we’re making in this process).
Tools and Equipment for Making Homemade Ricotta
You’ll need the following tools to go along with the above ingredients:
Nonreactive pots, such as stainless steel or enamel-coated pots.
Digital instant-read thermometer or cheesemaking thermometer.
Large fine-mesh strainer, sieve, or colander lined with layers of cheesecloth.
Tips for Making the Perfect Ricotta-Style Cheese
While making homemade ricotta-style cheese requires few ingredients, consider the following tips to perfect your technique:
Drain your Ricotta well. The longer and more thoroughly you drain your Ricotta, the thicker the texture will be.
Go easy on the cream. Too much heavy cream will weigh down your Ricotta, making it less fluffy.
Don’t overmake. Ricotta cheese goes bad quickly, even in the refrigerator, so stick to making a quantity you’ll actually use within the next couple of days. If you need to scale up this recipe, one gallon of milk will yield about one pound of cheese.
Don’t throw away your leftover whey. It’s full of good bacteria that can help jump-start fermentation projects. You can add a little to soaking liquid for whole grains, add it to smoothies, use it to marinate meats, or even try making Ricotta the traditional way.
Bonus Recipes With Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Once you’ve tried the ricotta recipe below, consider using your homemade Ricotta to make the following dishes:
Ricotta on toast: Ricotta and toasted bread go together like peanut butter and jelly. Top toast with ricotta cheese and smashed peas. Garnish with mint leaves, lemon juice, olive oil, and sea salt. You can also spread Ricotta on toast and top with a drizzle of honey.
Grilled ricotta bread: Brush brioche slices with melted butter and heat in a large skillet or griddle over medium-high heat until golden brown. Spoon ricotta cheese on each piece of grilled bread, spreading so that the edges are taller than the center. Pour your favorite jam into the center and sprinkle with flaky kosher salt.
Lemon ricotta pancakes: Adding fresh ricotta cheese to pancake batter yields super-fluffy hotcakes, while lemon zest plays up the acidity of the cheese.
Gnudi (ricotta gnocchi ): Italian pasta that looks and tastes like extra-fluffy gnocchi, but it’s made with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes.
Lasagna: Take your favorite lasagna recipe to the next level by subbing grocery-store Ricotta with this homemade ricotta cheese recipe.
Ricotta ice cream: Use fresh Ricotta to make no-churn ricotta ice cream. Simply blend the cheese with milk and sugar, then freeze in an airtight container.
How to Store Ricotta Cheese
This homemade ricotta-style cheese is fresh cheese, which means it hasn’t been aged to prolong its shelf life. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to two days.
Easy Homemade Ricotta Cheese Recipe
Put the acidic solution in a smaller container and add an ounce of hot (not simmering) water. Stir until the citric acid has completely dissolved. (Skip the stirring if you are you’re using the juice of a lemon.)
Place the milk in a big, nonreactive pot set over a low flame and stir it frequently using an elongated spatula until the milk begins to steam and then becomes foamy around close to the edge of the pan (180degF).
Remove from the heat and add the solution of citric acid (or the lemon juice) in a small amount, beginning with some acid. Continue adding acid till the milk starts to curdle. Rest the pot until it can be cool enough to be able to touch it, around 15 minutes.
Nestle a Fine mesh sieve or a cheesecloth-lined colander into an enormous bowl. Pour the curdled milk in and allow to drain until the Ricotta is at the desired consistency, which should take between 20 and 30 minutes. The liquid that collects on the surface of your bowl is whey.
Transfer the Ricotta into a bowl of medium size and then gently fold it into the cream, beginning with a small splash and adding the amount you need to get the desired consistency. You want a creamy ricotta that is firm but not clumpy.
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