Sunday, November 8, 2009

Homemade "ricotta" cheese

Yes, you read that correctly folks. This isn't a recipe USING ricotta cheese, it's a recipe FOR ricotta cheese. And it's quite possibly the easiest thing I have ever made in my life.

Can you pour milk in a pot? Can you heat that pot? Can you pour an acid into that pot and stir? Can you then dump out the liquid?? Well, then YOU TOO can make your own ricotta cheese. Yup, that's it.

Ready to make cheese?!?

Disclaimer: We're not really making ricotta, since real ricotta is made from whey, and not curds (whey is the liquid that's left over after you curdle the milk into cheese curds). In this recipe we'll be making "ricotta" from the curds; but it's a pretty damn close approximation and can be used interchangeably with store-bought ricotta.

First pour your (whole) milk into a big pot and set temp to medium high heat.

Next add salt.

Now, you stir. Basically you want to get the milk to a simmer but you DO NOT want to burn the milk. Burned milk= no good. What do you to prevent milk from burning? Whisk. A lot. And regularly. And remember, the closer you get to a simmer the more you should whisk, because that's when the milk is more prone to burning. You'll also notice the milk get a bit foamy around the edges and a bit bubbly- this is good. It's getting close.

Once the milk is at a simmer add 2-3 TBSP of lemon juice. I used the ghetto-fabulous from concentrate kind because I have a giant bottle of it that's been in my fridge for years. Fresh will work too. (The acid isn't for flavor, it's to curdle the milk.)

Now just stir for another minute or two (turn down the heat if it starts bubbling too much). Almost instantly you'll see a change in texture. Can you see the clumpies?? (Note: I'd suggest using a wooden/silicone spoon for this step instead of a whisk. Whisking vigorously resulted in much smaller curds; stir gently for smaller curds)

Once you're done just pour the whole thing in a strainer.

The recipe I was using said use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to a strainer. But my curds were too small (I think b/c I whisked after adding the lemon juice vs. stirring gently) and they went right through my slotted spoon so I just dumped the whole thing in and it worked perfectly. Other recipes also call for cheese cloth. While you can use cheese cloth to dry the cheese even more (and press it into the kind of cheese used in Indian dishes called paneer) it's not necessary either.

See, just a strainer with small holes is all you really need. Look how the curds (aka cheese) nicely separate from the whey (aka leftover liquid).

The leftover whey should be transparent (vs. the opaque milk), "thin/liquidy" looking, and a bit yellowish. If it still looks milky you can go ahead and repeat the process to get more cheese. Mine was pretty much cheesed out though.

So what's the final product look like?? An airier, lighter and drier version of ricotta cheese

And you don't need to let it sit or anything. It's literally ready within a minute of draining the whey. You COULD let it sit longer, but I was hungry for dinner. mmmmmmm, cheese...

OK, time now for my random thoughts/comments:

1. 1/2 gallon of milk will yield ~ 1.5 cups cheese. It's not alot, and makes you realize why cheese is so damn fattening...

2. The cheese had a really great texture, very light and "clean" tasting. However, it was a bit bland. Perhaps that's just because I crumbled it on my pasta and didn't actually add anything else to it (which you would if you were to use it for stuffed shells or lasagna). So I dunno if adding a smidge more salt would help.

3. I made this using whole milk, and I'd suggest the same. Maybe 2%, but I don't know if I'd risk milk with less fat than that.

4. Cooks Illustrated says to store it for 3 days. You can probably get away with a little longer than that (it didn't smell bad even after a week) but eat it later at your own risk. :)

5. This is exactly the same way you make paneer, the cheese cubes used in Indian dishes like palak paneer. Watch this great video to see the making of paneer. ( Actually, watch the video even if you never plan to make paneer- it shows you exactly how everything will look. It also gives you advice on how to use the leftover whey and different ways to flavor the cheese (since it is a bit bland).

6. This is a great recipe to whip out if your milk is on the verge of going bad and you know you're never going to drink it in time. Just scale down the salt/acid to the amount of milk you have for a single serving of cheese.



OK, recipe time.

My recipe, adapted from this recipe on livejournal

1/2 gallon milk
1 tsp salt
2-3 TBSP lemon juice

Add salt to milk and heat on med/high heat until simmering, making sure to whisk throughout the heating. When frothy and slightly bubbly, add the lemon juice. Stir and continue to simmer for 1-2 minutes. Pour curds + whey into a strainer with small holes and lift out the strainer. Done.

Cooks Illustrated Recipe. Same thing just more details

1 1/2 gallons whole milk
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 - 3/4 cup juice (from 6 to 7 lemons or concentrate)

1. Heat milk and salt in 7-quart Dutch oven over medium-high, stirring frequently with rubber spatula to prevent scorching, until milk registers 185 degrees on instant read thermometer, about 15 minutes.

2. Remove pot from heat. Using rubber spatula, slowly stir in 1/2 cup lemon juice until fully incorporated, 15 seconds. Allow milk to stand, undisturbed for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes milk should separate into white solid curds and translucent liquid whey. If after 5 minutes whey is still milky and opaque, add 2 more tablespoons lemon juice, gently stir to combine and let rest 5 minutes longer. Check separation again and repeat with another 2 tablespoons juice until whey is no longer opaque (depending on your milk, whey may appear different shades of yellow or blue). Once milk is separated into curds and whey allow pot to rest for 20 minutes.

3. Line colander or large strainer with double layer of cheesecloth and set over sink. Using large spoon, carefully spoon curds into colander. Discard whey. Using rubber spatula, gently fold curds over themselves until liquid no longer runs out of colander and curds have texture of grainy cream cheese. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.


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