I was recently fortunate enough to receive some free milk from my dairy man because it was past the sell by date and he could no longer offer it for sale. We have a good relationship and he knows that I will make something with it and it won't have to go down the drain. I love him for that! It makes us all happy! So I went home with two, half gallon bottles of delicious whole milk, in addition to my weekly needs so it was time to make some homemade ricotta cheese in preparation for a baked spaghetti casserole I was planning later in the week. Oh happy day!
Ricotta cheese is in so many of our favorite recipes, from casseroles and vegetable dishes and pastas and desserts, that it can be easy to reach for the commercially produced version without giving a thought to making it ourselves. The price comparison isn't that different, and you aren't going to save much money by making your own. What you will save, is unnecessary ingredients and you will gain the confidence of knowing how to make this simple cheese right in your own kitchen. This is the most basic of cheese making, requiring only three ingredients, good quality whole milk, white vinegar and salt. A little patience won't hurt either. You will be on your way to the most simplistic form of heaven on earth when you give this process a try, even if it's just for fun, but I promise you, this is addicting!
Sometimes I want to know how to do things, just to know how to do them. This comes from a deep seeded sense of curiosity that I have had since birth. I am sure that my mother could tell you stories of how I took the telephone apart or any number of gadgets, just to see what was inside, only to fail at re-assembling them into a working device once again. Those things are just experience. The main experience I gained was that mom isn't as impressed as I was with how things work. All kidding aside, making cheese goes right along with canning, baking and cooking. In that they are all a part of a process, sort of an alchemy or chemistry, if you will. Cheese making is fascinating in its simplicity, but it is vast and the types of cheese you can create from just milk, salt and some sort of acid and in many cases a type of culture are endless.
Every part of the world has a type of cheese it is known for. Cheese was most likely first discovered by accident, with nomadic people using a mammal stomach as a vessel to carry milk. When they went back to the vessel after a long day of trudging through the desert, they found that their milk had turned to cheese. Maybe that sounds off putting to some, but it really makes a lot of sense. One of those "Eureka" moments that took off like a shot.
Ricotta is one of the most basic forms of cheese that you can create easily at home with no cultures and no bacteria, it does not need to be "innoculated" and only needs to have the milk solids separated from the whey. This is where the vinegar comes in. You can also choose to use fresh, never bottled lemon juice to create this process as well. I have also been working with a buttermilk ricotta that is wonderful and only uses whole milk and buttermilk as the acid for breaking a curd.
The process is as simple as the ingredients. The first, and most important thing to know is that you need to start with impeccably clean, stainless steel, pots, utensils and an instant read thermometer or a cheese making thermometer. This is where you simply cannot skimp or get lazy. Thoroughly wash and dry your pot and your utensils in a bleach solution, and allow them to air dry to make sure there is no residual bleach for at least 15 minutes after they have been washed. Then you can move on with your ricotta.
When it reaches the right temperature, you are going to drizzle in 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar, or freshly squeezed lemon juice, never bottled lemon juice and never apple cider vinegar, which can give your cheese an off flavor.
Using a large slotted spoon, you will want to slowly stir the milk and you will be able to see the curd separating from the whey. At this point pop the thermometer back in and allow this mixture to reach 185 degrees, at which point you will turn off the heat, gives things another stir and put the lid on the pot. Allow this to rest for 20 minutes before draining.
Once the cheese has rested, drain into a colander that has been lined with either several layers of cheesecloth or a flour sack towel and if you like, catch the whey and use it for bread baking and smoothie making, you can also simply let it go if you don't think you will use it.
Bundle the cheesecloth together and wrap with some string. Hang this bundle from a hook, over a bowl and colander and allow it to drain for at least a hour.
At which time you can remove the string and pop the cheese into a container. You can salt it at this time to taste and use it as you like!
I hope that this gives you the confidence to try making this simple cheese for yourself and I hope that when you do you will love it!
If you would like to see how I made my ricotta cheese, you can watch here: