Making Ricotta: Stupidly Easy and Delicious
If you’ve ever had fresh ricotta cheese, you know just how creamy and delicious it is. If you haven’t and have only had the misfortune of eating that gritty supermarket crap, here’s your chance to not only taste the brilliance, but also try your hand at some incredibly easy cheesemaking.
I tend to avoid anything resembling science or chemistry when it comes to cooking. I don’t bake, I don’t do candy/dessert that requires precise measures. I simply don’t have the patience or willingness to adhere to a recipe these things require. Because of this, I’d never considered making my own cheese. ‘Too strict a process,’ I always imagined … until I saw a recipe for ricotta cheese that was so excruciatingly easy, it made me feel like I had to do it. Ingredients: Milk, buttermilk and a hefty pinch of salt. That’s it. You heat the two together, scoop off the curds, and voila … ricotta.
This isn’t what Italian purists would call the traditional ricotta, though. The traditional ricotta — which means recooked in Italian — is actually made with the whey that’s left after making mozzarella cheese. Here, the recipe comes from the initial ingredient as opposed to being a byproduct, so while it’s a little less green, you’re still making things happen instead of just opting for a lesser product.
Like many things culinary, quality of ingredients is key. This is especially true with anything reliant on dairy products. Factory milk is fine for coffee and other general uses, but if you are making something whose flavor will be based solely on that milk, you’d better go out and get yourself some high-grade stuff. Even if you spring for the organic stuff at your supermarket, the difference in quality will be blatant and well worth the extra dollar at the end of the day. So, it’s go time for me … have milk, make cheese.
The recipe and ratio here is dead simple: A half-gallon of whole milk and a pint of buttermilk. The acids and enzymes in the buttermilk will act as the agent that will separate the curds from the whey in the cheese. No rennet needed here. Put the milks into a heavy saucepan and break out your candy thermometer that you haven’t used in 5 years. If you don’t have one, a meat thermometer might work, but the candy kind are much more accurate and precise. Heat the milk on a decent heat, stirring and scraping the bottom fairly constantly until the thermometer reads …
… 175-180 degrees. That’s the crucial point where the separation will happen. At that point, shut off the burner and take the pot off of the heat. Next, you’ll need a wire skimmer or big slotted spoon to skim off the curds from the top.
Cheese has been born! Congrats, chef.
You’ll be placing the curds into a cheesecloth or thin towel-lined colander. I couldn’t find my damn cheesecloth, so I opted for a clean towel. Keep each spoonful elevated for a few seconds before putting it into the strainer, so any excess liquid doesn’t get in there. Repeat until all the curds are gone and you’re left with a cloudy gray puddle of productivity in the pot (otherwise known as whey).
Let this sit for about 15 minutes, moving the cheese around every now and then so any excess liquid pooled on top has a chance to be banished from our cheesy party.
This recipe (64 oz. of milk and 16 oz. of buttermilk) yields essentially a pint of fresh ricotta. If you require more for, say, a party… my genius math skills would tell you to use a gallon of milk and a quart of buttermilk, and you will have a quart of ricotta. Whatever amount you make, place it into an air-tight container, stir in salt to taste and refrigerate. If your cheese is too thick and dry once it cools, you can thin it out with a bit of milk until it’s the consistency you prefer.
Now, it’s up to you to utilize your bounty in whichever way you choose. My favorite method for putting fresh ricotta into my face is on some thick grilled country bread and then topped with one or two things. I opted for my two faves: One toast topped with a good, grassy-peppery olive oil with pepper and Maldon sea salt, and another with truffle honey I brought back from my truffle-packed vacation.
The final product is heaven: Crunchy grilled bread, creamy ricotta and then either spicy olive oil or sweet-but-savory truffle honey on the other. While I’d recommend these combinations to anyone I didn’t hate, the possibilities here are endless. Fresh fruit slices (peaches, strawberries) drizzled with a good aged balsamic, some great fresh or slow roasted tomatoes, good anchovies if that’s your thing (it’s my thing … not so much my wife’s). Put whatever the hell you want on top … it will be as good as it looks.
UPDATE: I couldn’t resist the ricotta goodness, so a scrumptious grilled pizza with herbed ricotta, La Quercia prosciutto, basil and aged balsamic was whipped up tonight for dinner. It ruled.