With just 2 ingredients, homemade ricotta couldn’t be simpler
Cooking from scratch is an ideal I aim for, but sometimes it is not practical. Either the food takes an enormous amount of time to prepare, or it needs a skill that takes a lot of practice to acquire.
My two or three attempts at homemade pasta convinced me that the product in the box was more than adequate.
On the other hand, some foods are so simple to make, and taste so much better than what you can buy, that the choice is clear. Ricotta is a good example.
In Italy, ricotta is a whey cheese made from the liquid remaining after the cheese-making process is complete. In Italian, ricotta means “re-cooked.” The whey is reheated until delicate curds form. Unless you are a cheesemaker, making authentic Italian ricotta is beyond the purview of the home cook.
The process: Most ricotta in the United States starts out with milk, not whey. Some type of acid is added to form curds. The curds are then scooped out and left to drain. With only two ingredients involved, making ricotta is a straightforward process.
Because ricotta is watery when first made, it needs to be drained. Commercial producers skip this step, and add gums and stabilizers to produce a better consistency. If you use this ricotta for baking, the gums break down and the cheese becomes grainy.
Homemade ricotta is made in a similar fashion. For the acid, you can use vinegar or lemon juice. My preference is vinegar because it has a standard level of acidity.
When making ricotta, the only caveat is not to use ultra-pasteurized milk, as it won’t coagulate. Most organic milks fall into this category, so read the label on the carton carefully.
Once you’ve tried homemade ricotta, you’ll never go back. Mild and creamy, it is the perfect cheese for crostini, lasagna, stuffed shells, cannoli and pies — or just eating topped with a little honey. Be sure to save the whey. It’s great for bread baking and adding to soups.
- 1/2 gallon whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons white vinegar
Heat the milk to between 175 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the vinegar, and stir gently until curds begin to form throughout the milk. Once the curds have formed, stop stirring. Hold the curds at this temperature for 15 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon or spider sieve, scoop the curds into a strainer lined with a triple layer of cheesecloth. Let drain for about 8 minutes. If you want a firmer product, let drain longer. Save the whey. If your cheese is too dry, you can mix some back in to make it creamier.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at email@example.com.