Ricotta cheese is surprisingly easy to make at home (or an a boat). All it takes is some milk, a little cream, some type of acid and a little heat. Voila! Not only is home-made ricotta much tastier than supermarket ricotta (which often includes gum as a stabilizer, hence the not-so-great taste and texture), but you have the benefit of making as much or as little as you need. I should mention that this is not true ricotta cheese like you would find at Di Palo’s in Little Italy or another good cheese shop. Real ricotta is made with leftover whey from making mozzarella or other cheese. However, milk and cream still produce a very tasty ‘ricotta’ and it takes less than 15 minutes to make.
The other benefit to making your own ricotta is that you can determine the consistency depending on what you will be using it for. Making crostini with ricotta and fresh basil? Whip up a small batch, let it drain for 5 minutes and spread it on a toasted baguette while still moist. Pasta and ricotta? Just make a larger batch, and let the cheese sit and drain for about 20 minutes. Ricotta gnocchi? Let it drain for at least an hour until its nice and firm.
I’ve tried many different ways to make homemade ricotta, but the recipe below is the one I like the best. Other ways to make ricotta cheese is to add buttermilk, use lemon juice as the acid rather than vinegar, add more cream, or use homogenized milk. Using lime or lemon juice does add a citrusy flavor to the ricotta which is nice for certain dishes but it’s not my preference for an ‘everyday’ cheese. Buttermilk can add a sour note to the ricotta – not a bad thing but again, just not my preference. Finally, I found that unhomogenized milk tends to produce the most curds, in other words, the most ricotta.
For the discerning readers you might ask, isn’t this paneer (Indian or South Asian cheese)? It basically is that as well :-). As I mentioned above, real ricotta is actually made (recooked) from leftover whey, while paneer is made with milk, an acid and heat, then drained and pressed until it is a semi-firm cheese. Either way, this cheese is easily made – even while sailing – and a delight to eat either plain or in a variety of dishes.
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
(makes about 1/2 cup)
- 2 cups whole milk, unhomogenized
- 1 cup half and half or heavy cream
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 3 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar (4 Tbsp. lemon juice can be substituted for a citrusy flavor)
- Lightly mix ingredients together in a glass microwave bowl (a large Pyrex measuring cup works great) and heat on high in a microwave for 3 minutes.
- Measure temperature. It should be between 165 to 180°F, if necessary heat again for 30 seconds, watching to see that it doesn’t start boiling, repeat as needed until it reaches the desired temperature. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon into a strainer lined with a layer of cheese cloth. Let drain for 5 minutes or up to an hour depending on choice of firmness. Note that the cheese will firm as it gets cooler, particularly in the refrigerator, so what may seem too soft in the cheesecloth, will firm up as the ricotta cools.