I consider myself pretty good at most things in the kitchen. Otherwise I would hate to be wasting your time. I can cook a great, even gourmet meal, I can bake a pretty awesome cake, I’m even a good bread maker, but I don’t do science. To me, anything in the kitchen that requires a lot of fancy tools and a lot of science just doesn’t sit well and isn’t at all fun. I’m also totally against recipes, that’s why most of my ‘non-recipes’, as a close friend once called them, tend to be so free and un-exact. So I have never made yogurt or cheese, as both things require most of the things I just don’t like. I have always thought it was awesome that my mother does both of those things so well, but I’ve just never really had that big of an urge to do it. Then a few months ago I came across the simplest recipe for homemade ricotta that was too tempting to pass up. I adore ricotta. I could eat it out of the tub, and have on many occasions. This recipe I came across didn’t require me to use a special, and sometimes scary, candy thermometer and no real science was involved. Totally me.
So I started to make it today for my upcoming girlfriend brunch (you’ll be hearing about that one in a couple of days I’m sure) and you would be very proud of me-I had my recipe right there with me the whole time and I followed it to a T. But guess what? My ricotta didn’t turn out. Nothing ricotta-ish ever happened, just a whole lot of hot, thick milk happened. And why didn’t my ricotta turn out? Because I followed my recipe to a T and didn’t look further into the situation. Stupid recipes, I knew I didn’t like you.
When you make cheese, it is imperative that you never, ever use Ultra-Pasteurized milk or cream. That should be the most important part of any cheese recipe out there. There should be a big, bold lettered warning at the top of the page that reads, “HEY YOU-BEFORE YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT MAKING THIS CHEESE, LOOK AT YOUR MILK CARTON AND MAKE SURE THERE IS NO ‘ULTRA’ IN FRONT OF THE PASTEURIZED OR YOU WILL END UP WITH A BIG POT OF HOT, THICK MILK.” So I suppose you can guess where I went wrong in my first cheese-making experience. I didn’t even know I had anything ultra-pasteurized in my fridge, I never buy the stuff (it’s way more expensive and you know me…). So that’s why I am here to warn any of you novice cheese makers out there to not make the same mistake I made.
After my first literal hot-mess, I had to send my husband out to get a gallon of regular cheap milk for me to start all over again. I had a few other hiccups along the way as well- even though I stirred my milk the whole time and didn’t let it boil, I still had some brown bits form on the bottom of the pan that couldn’t help but get mixed into my ricotta. Now my ricotta looks kinda like a pinto (the horse, not the car.) This is because I stupidly didn’t use a really heavy pot. That’s very important. I also feel like the recipe needed more salt, so I’m changing that. And the last thing I’m changing is the amount of time you strain your curds. If I would have followed the directions I would have ended up with something more similar to Ricotta Salata. But honestly, when I made it the second time, it really was surprisingly easy and I encourage you all to try it yourself. But please do what I say not what I did.
“HEY YOU-BEFORE YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT MAKING THIS CHEESE, LOOK AT YOUR MILK CARTON AND MAKE SURE THERE IS NO ‘ULTRA’ IN FRONT OF THE PASTEURIZED OR YOU WILL END UP WITH A BIG POT OF HOT, THICK MILK.”
-In a large, heavy bottomed pot, pour in 1 gallon of Whole Milk and 2 tsp of kosher salt + 2 pinches.
-Bring this to a simmer, being careful to stir the whole time and not scald the bottom of the pan.
-As soon as it comes to a simmer (not a boil!..this can happen quicker than you’d think), add 6 TB of lemon juice (you’ll need 2 lemons for this and have a little juice leftover) and stir.
-Pretty soon you will start to see the curds separate from the whey.
Continue to stir for about a minute or so and when there is a definite curd and whey party going on in the pot, turn the heat off and using a skimmer or sieve, remove the curds and place in a cheesecloth lined colander situated over a large bowl.
-Allow this to strain for a minute and check to see if the consistency is right for you. Strain longer for a drier cheese and less for a softer, creamier one. I recommend not squeezing any liquid out, even if you want a somewhat dry consistency you want to keep some moisture or you will end up with crumbles.
-Store your ricotta in an airtight container in the fridge and use within a week.
Sometimes the most simplest way is best. Like spread upon some of my Italian Bread, warm and fresh from the oven… and maybe even drizzled with honey and sprinkled with flaky sea salt…
But these are mere ideas from the top of my head 😉
*Notes on using your leftover whey:
-You can replace it for the water in bread or biscuit recipes.
-You can boil your pasta noodles or rice in it, just be sure to salt it well.
-You can water your plants with it.
-You can sweeten it and give it to your weight-lifting husband for a protein-rich after-workout drink.