5/28/12

Making Homemade Ricotta

Some of the ricotta ingredients and tools
A new Mennonite community farm market has opened near where I live, and they sell whole, unpasteurized milk. By law, it is labelled "not for human consumption." I thought this milk would be perfect to use for making my own ricotta, a process which requires the milk to be heated, thus pasteurizing it in the process (according to the internet, milk is pasteurized at 161°).

Homemade ricotta is surprisingly simple, although my first attempt was a bit of a struggle; I realized later that I had measured the milk wrong! But some good came from this error - I discovered I could use less heavy cream than the original recipe called for. Also, I've written my recipe to make a larger quantity than the original made; same amount of work, so why not make plenty - it's so delicious there is no trouble using it!

HOMEMADE RICOTTA
(makes about 1-1/2 cups)
2 quarts (8 c  or 64 oz) whole milk
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 t salt
1/4 c fresh lemon juice*

Adding lemon juice to the heated mix makes it curdle
To prepare for straining, line a colander or other strainer with cheesecloth. As my photo shows, you can buy cheesecloth in the paint department. My friend Sherri  strains her homemade cheeses with cardboard/mesh paint strainers from the home store! Alternately, you can use overlapping flattened coffee filters, or, for a small batch, a cone-style coffee filter set over a tall bowl.

Heat the milk and heavy cream in a large saucepan over medium high heat. If you have an instant read thermometer (the type for making candy), heat to about 185°.

Add the salt and lemon juice, and stir. Reduce heat to low, stirring until the mixture curdles, which should be in about one to two minutes.

Remove from heat and pour the mixture into a strainer set over a bowl to catch the "whey". (I dispose of the whey by pouring it into my compost pile).

Straining the liquid off the cheese.
Let the mixture drain for up to an hour, then remove to a refrigerator container.

SUGGESTIONS FOR USING THE RICOTTA:
This is so yummy, just eaten plain off a spoon! You can, of course, use this ricotta in any recipe which calls for ricotta, such as lasagna. Or make an herbal spread as I did in my previous post, or mix with roasted garlic and chili powder for another delicious dip. I used some of this batch to make a chicken salad. I'll never be able to duplicate it, since I was using leftovers, but it was made with leftover grilled marinated chicken breast, chopped celery and scallions from my garden, a few spoonfuls of my homemade Caesar Dressing, a few spoonfuls of the fresh homemade ricotta, and about 1/4 cup of leftover homemade tabouli. It was delicious, with fresh garden lettuce, all wrapped in a spelt tortilla!

Chicken salad, with ricotta in place of mayo
* Apple cider vinegar, another acid, can be used in place of the lemon juice. I love the flavor with lemon juice, but I'll try the vinegar next time.