Whole Milk Ricotta
I never really liked cheese when I was young. Even as I grew older, I really never acquired a taste for cheese except when it was cooked into something. So it was a bit shocking to discover that making cheese interested me. Without a lifetime of cheese tasting experience, how would I know when something tasted right?
Research was required, so I started tasting cheeses at every opportunity and browsing books. Now I know that I like some cheeses, that I can learn to like some cheeses, and that stinky cheeses are not yet in either category. I also learned that, with proper equipment and a willingness to follow instructions, anyone can make cheese.
Traditional ricotta is whey recooked with vinegar. This version of ricotta doesn't require you to make another cheese first and it produces a very finely textured cheese with great flavor.
Whole Milk Ricotta
1 quart/liter whole milkThis will produce about half a pound of cheese. The recipe scales up nicely if you need more. You can substitute 2 tablespoons/30mL freshly squeezed lemon juice for the citric acid but the resulting texture can be a bit more coarse.
½ cup/125mL heavy cream (optional)
¼ teaspoon/1.25mL citric acid
¼ teaspoon/1.25mL cheese or kosher salt (optional)
As always, sterilize your equipment. The easiest method is to fill the pan you're using with water, your stainless steel spoon, and your measuring equipment. Bring to a boil and cover for 5 minutes.
Mix everything together in a stainless steel pan. I find it's easier if I put the pan with the milk into a larger pan, then fill the larger pan with water and heat that. When you mix everything together, the milk curdles almost immediately.
As the milk heats, it thickens up and looks less lumpy. When the temperature approaches 195°F/91°C the curds start to separate from the whey.
Once the temperature is at least 195°F/91°C, but before it reaches 205°F/96°C, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside for 5-15 minutes. The curds will separate fully from the whey.
Put a colander into a large bowl and line the colander with dampened butter muslin or three layers of dampened cheesecloth. Gently pour the curds into the colander. Within a few seconds, much of the whey will have drained out, leaving the curds behind. You can let it drain in the colander, or tie the butter muslin closed and hang the cheese until it reaches the consistency you want. It should take 30 minutes or less to drain.
Spoon the finished cheese into a sterile container and refrigerate. If you use salt, it will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer. If you choose not to salt the cheese, you should use it the same day for the best flavor and texture; it will last three days in the refrigerator. The whey can be used in place of milk in recipes.
This is a great cheese to start with, because it's very easy and forgiving.