Simple Ricotta Cheese

When is the last time milk soured in your fridge?  It got pushed to the back and forgotten or you were at the shop and thought “oh, we need milk” only to find an unopened liter already at home.  Do NOT toss it.  The extra milk, the “off” milk will give you perfect ricotta cheese. 

While in Botswana we struggled to keep fresh milk fresh.  In the smaller towns the only option most times would be UHT (ultra-high-temperature) milk or Ultra-Pasteurized milk, meaning before it is packaged it is heated to 140 degrees to kill the microbes to make it commercially sterile.  As milk is so perishable, this UHT milk allows it to have a long shelf life without refrigeration, but it does not make for great cheese.  You will get a smaller yield and looser curds. 

While in bigger cities, we found the pasteurized, refrigerated milk and within 1 to 2 days of opening it, the milk would be clumpy or start to sour.  I had made ricotta cheese in the past, but it was never out of necessity – salvaging what was left of the liter, so I got quite good at quickly whipping it up.

I love this recipe because it is so simple, ingredients are generally on hand, and ricotta is so wonderfully versatile.  It’s basically a light, fluffy, creamy, delicious chameleon cheese.  With this basic recipe you can easily go savory with lasagna, pastas, toasts, salads, and pizzas or sweet whipped up in cakes, puddings, and can you say cannoli???  There are so many options with what to do with your ricotta, after you make it the first time, you may just sneak that milk behind the orange juice and wine to find it a few days later. 

Beautiful ricotta toasts with different toppings including strawberries, cucumber and dill, grapes with honey, arugula and cracked pepper, tomatoes and basil, peaches and blackberries, beet and dill, tomatoe and olives, prosciuotto and arugula
Sweet and Savory Ricotta Toasts

Ingredients

The ingredients and tools to make ricotta:  Milk, vinegar, salt, pot, colander, tea towel.
IngredientImperial (US)Metric (everywhere else)
Whole Milk8 C.2 Liter
Salt1.5 tbsp.1.5 tbsp.
White Vinegar/ lemon juice1/2 C.150 mL

I like using a combination of lemon juice and white vinegar.  Sometimes the acidity level of the lemons is low, and it will not form nice curds, but adds a nice flavor and I will encourage the curdling process with the white vinegar.   

The finished product: Creamy, fluffy ricotta cheese
Finished ricotta

*2 Liter of milk will yield about 1/2 kilo Ricotta

Equipment

  • Large stock pot
  • Strainer
  • Clean dish towel or cheese cloth
  • Spatula or spoon
  • Thermometer is helpful

Method

  1. Milk and salt in pot. 
  2. Heat med-low until milk starts to foam and steam (thermometer 80°C/ 185°F), stirring occasionally.  Gentle, gentle you don’t want it to stick to the bottom and you don’t want it to boil over.
  3. Stir in vinegar/lemon acid and remove pot from heat
  4. Sit for 30 minutes with lid on
  5. Dampen dish towel and line inside the strainer
  6. Pour contents of pot into strainer – the curds will gather in the towel and the yellowish clear liquid (the whey) will drain through
  7. Let sit for at least 30 minutes
  8. And voila!  You have just made gorgeous ricotta cheese.  Now smoother it on some nice toasty bread or store in airtight container for up to a week.
Step 1:  Milk and Salt in Pot
Step 1: Milk and Salt in Pot
Milk beginning to foam when brought up on the heat.
Step 2: Bring to steam
Adding the acid once the milk has been brought to temprature.
Step 3: Add acid and remove from heat
Once the acid has been added, the curds will seperate from the whey.
Step 4: After you stir in the acid, let it sit and it should look like this
After the milk has been brought to temprature and the curds have seperated from the whey before transferring the ricotta cheese to a colander
Steps 5 & 6: Line colander with damp tea towel or cheese cloth and pour curds in
Hanging ricotta cheese in a strainer and lined with a dish towel.
Step 7: Hang the ricotta for about 30 minutes.
Pressing out additional liquid from ricotta cheese with a spatula.
get all the good stuff
Creamy, fluffy ricotta cheese ready to be devoured
Beautiful, creamy ricotta cheese

The Learning Curve

Curds are not forming Add a bit more acid

Ricotta is too dry Mix some of the whey back into the curds once it has hung.

I have a low yield and the whey is still whiteish Go ahead and put the remaining liquid in a pot with some additional acid, bring to temperature and try the process again.  When I haven’t had a thermometer, I tried to salvage it, and it worked beautifully.

**And remember to scrape the dish towel with a spatula to get all that nice ricotta, then soak the towel in the sink with some dish soap. If the towel doesn’t get laundered right away it definitely starts to stink.

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