The other day a good friend, Jenn, came over and taught me how to make homemade ricotta cheese. I know what you’re thinking. “Did you just say homemade ricotta, as in the cheese? Ricotta?” Yes, ricotta as in the cheese, and homemade as in made at home on my teeny tiny stove in my teeny tiny kitchen with a half gallon of milk. Milk, as in the kind you buy at the store. Sounds unlikely doesn’t it? I gawked too, but Jenn made a believer out of me. Now it’s all homemade ricotta all the time.
It’s easy too! You could whip up a batch of ricotta while tomato sauce simmers for your next lasagne. You could whip up a batch at the last minute before your next cheese and wine party and make a bruschetta of ricotta drizzled with honey and walnuts (wow, that sounds good – the way I amaze myself sometimes, genius I know).
Now that I’m officially a cheese crafter extraordinaire, who knows what’s next. Mozzarella, gruyere, a smoked gouda…. Once you go homemade cheese, well, you never go back.
I’ll give you step by step instructions below, but here is the basic concept: allow milk to slowly heat to a gentle simmer. As it heats, add lemon juice which causes the milk to curdle. Continue to heat to a slow rolling boil, but don’t scald the milk. Once it has curdled, it will separate into curds and whey. The curds, which contain all the milk fats, are the ricotta cheese. The whey, which contains the water and much of the protein, can be reserved for other uses. Don’t be intimated by words like, “curdle.” It’s a forgiving process. Don’t worry about measuring out the lemon juice drop by drop. This is the kind of recipe you have to eyeball and then add little here, a little there and see how it goes. Once the milk curdles, you simple stir gently over medium to low heat until it is well separated. Then, you strain out as much water as you want and voila! Ricotta cheese.
Half-gallon whole milk
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
Pour milk and salt into heavy saucepan and heat gently over a medium-low flame. Stir occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching. Heat until milk is about to simmer, stir in lemon juice. Continue to stir over low flame and allow milk to come to a very gentle boil. Remove from heat, continue to stir. The milk should curdle and separate into curds and whey.
Line a strainer with cheese cloth and place over a large bowl to collect the whey*. Strain curds, and squeeze out excess liquid until your cheese just holds together. Slice or crumble and enjoy.
*Whey is an excellent source of protein, and although you may discard it for this recipe, you could use it to make smoothies or use it as the water to boil lentils, pasta, etc.
Thank you darling, Jenn!