Besides giving you lots of delicious, creamy cheese that’s just begging to be showcased in a homemade lasagna or some fancy-pants cannoli, providing a nice way to use up milk that’s about to turn on you, and making the kitchen smell so warm and earthy and, well, cheesy, this process gives you BRAGGING RIGHTS. Which, as we all know, is the best reason to make anything at all from scratch–it makes people think you’re special. Which you were to begin with, misfits. Mostly. But if you make this cheese, you will be even more special-er. Hey, I made this cheese and I’m special.
You know what I mean.
Ricotta is one of those low-maintenance cheeses–no aging, enzymes, rennet, cheese presses, or fancy tools that vaguely resemble either instruments of torture or sex toys.
Or both, if you’re into that kind of thing.
But seriously, save yourself the trouble of buying yet another thing you’ll have to hide every time Mom comes over. Just make ricotta instead. If you’ve got milk, salt, vinegar, and a pot, you’ve got ricotta.
And for those of you wondering about my status as a lactard…it’s still there. Thing is, I’ve started drinking kefir and eating plain yogurt, which has helped me to digest milk a little better.
Using whole milk and cream ensures a smooth, creamy consistency and full, milky taste–bonus points if you can find milk that’s super fresh and not ultra-pasteurized. Don’t be afraid to dump in all the dairy you’re trying to use up (cream, half-and-half, and the like), as I’ve found this to be an incredibly forgiving cheese. And if you’ve got a forgiving cheese, what more could you ask from life? It is entirely possible to use 2% milk, with no cream or anything else to “fatten things up.” I’ve tried this tactic myself–but I don’t recommend it.
Fresh, Homemade Ricotta Cheese
1 gallon whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice
So take your big ol’ pot, dump the milk and cream into it, and stir the salt in with a wooden spoon. ‘Cause it feels more authentic to use a wooden spoon. Leave me alone, this is my cheese recipe, not yours, and if you want to use a metal spoon, you can, just don’t tell me, and also you should probably just write your own food blog if you think you’re so much smarter than I am. Stick a candy or digital thermometer in there somehow.
That part was a little dicey for me, but I rigged up an ingenious magnet system to suspend my thermometer in there without letting it touch the bottom. See?
Now make sure you don’t knock over your ingenious contraption, causing the magnet to fall into your hot milk-cheese stuff. You might be so upset that you’ll plunge your hand into the steamy stuff to retrieve the magnet, then spill more on yourself, and then obsess over whether or not you can eat the resulting cheese. And the answer would be, yes you can. Not that I know from experience or anything.
Now turn the heat to LOW. You want the milk to come up to temperature slowly, without running the risk of boiling it. You do not want to taste the cheese that has resulted from boiled milk. So take things nice and easy, put on a little Barry White, and let your milk know that you’re willing to give it as much time as it needs to make things happen tonight. Now seriously, go do something else, because I hear somewhere that a watched pot of milk never cheeses. Or something like that. Maybe come back to mix once or twice.
When the mixture reaches 180 degrees, dump in your vinegar or lemon juice and stir it in. Your milk will immediately curdle, but let it continue heating until visible curds separate from the whey (should be within a few minutes). At that point, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 20 or so.
In the meantime, line a mesh sieve with several layers of cheesecloth (you really will need several layers…this is a soft cheese) and place the whole thing over a bowl. When the mix has cooled a bit, pour it all into the sieve and let it drain for an hour or so.
Et voila! You have cheese! Pack the stuff into a jar or airtight container and stick it in the fridge. What’s left in the bowl is the whey (not the probiotic kind, don’t get all excited)–but don’t throw it out! It’s still super nutritious and high-protein–you can sweeten it with a little honey and enjoy it as a workout drink, use it instead of milk in some recipes, or even water plants with it. Waste not, want not, that’s what Gen the Cheesemonger always says.
Why, yes, Gen the Cheesemonger IS my stage name, thanks for asking.