In less time than a Glee episode, you can have full flavoured, dreamy, ricotta cheese ready for so many great dishes. It doesn't take any special equipment, and the only ingredient you'll need other than good milk is citric acid.
At some point in the prepared food production system, someone convinced us that basic fresh cheese wasn't anything those of us without a cow should be making ourselves. I've been making my own soft cheeses for awhile now, like ricotta, mozzarella and mascarpone, but the ricotta is the one that's got my dance card. A batch of this ethereal, dairy magic is heated, coagulated and strained in my humble kitchen about every other week. In fact I look forward to the day my milk supply gets away from me. What certainly began as a preservation technique centuries ago prolongs my milk's life as well. But don't worry, this can be made with any milk you can get, raw or not.
A container of this in the fridge means the most beautiful topping for homemade pizza, a picture perfect appetizer slathered on toasted baguette with pesto and a sun dried tomato and a pound cake I can't keep myself my sneaking each time I pass the kitchen (coming soon!). Not to mention these textbook perfect calzones that make you salivate upon first sight. This cheese is lacking in gums, stabilizers and preservatives, so that milk flavour shines through humbly and perfectly.
In my enthusiasm for what seems incredibly exciting for this modern 21st century food lover, I told my 94 Grandmother that I'd been making cheese. She nodded with a reserved sense of interest that comes from living a life that long, having seen it all. Then she told me that her mother used to make cheese. I nodded with interest, assuming what she was talking about was a simple fresh farmers cheese. She continued her story, to explain the process of curds being scooped into drained baskets and put aside to drain. And then they were left in a root cellar to dry. She was indeed speaking of the real thing, a country Tomme style cheese. I hadn't heard any accounts of having a cheesemaker in the family. Well in fact there weren't, not as profession. She was a seamstress but she lived on a farm and at the turn of the 20th century if you had a cow you had to do something to preserve that milk, so cheese was made. Simple as that. In this age of rock star food producers, of reverence for cheesemakers and bread bakers and sausage makers, its an important reminder indeed these foods we hold in such esteem now, were all born out of necessity, there was nothing glamorous or impressive about making your own Tomme in 1905, it was simply a way to feed your family through winter.
Making this simple ricotta cheese will remind you that many of the convenience foods we buy are not so much work to make ourself. The trade off of a little time is worth it for something this good.
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
4 Litres whole milk
1 1/2 tsp citric acid
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
Cheesecloth or butter muslin
Pour your milk into a large pot. Enamelled cast iron makes a perfect material for this. Place the heat to medium. Combine the citric acid and water and stir to dissolve. Pour this mixture into the milk and stir around to thoroughly mix in. Stir in the salt. Wet the cheesecloth/butter muslin well and then wrong out. Lay over a strainer over a bowl. Set aside.
Let the milk heat slowly. Once in awhile stir the mixture, paying special attention to the bottom, do so gently as you do not want to disturb the curds as they form. The larger the curds at the end are the creamier your ricotta. You do not want to boil the milk. As the milk starts to get hot enough the mixture will curdle and the milk solids will separate. When you see this begin you know you are close to being done.
When you notice the liquid, the whey, lose its milkiness and appear clear in texture, you know you are ready. If in doubt use a thermometer. You are looking for about 190 degrees F.
When cheese is ready, remove from heat and set aside for 5-15 minutes. Have your strainer set up next to the pot. Using a slotted spoon or handheld strainer with lots of holes, very gently scoop into the mixture and lift up, let most of the whey drain back into the pot.Then gently place into the cheesecloth lined strainer. Do this until you have scooped out most of the cheese curds.
Lift the corners of the cheesecloth/butter muslin and gather them together to form a sack for the cheese to drain. Hold it like that for a minute, then place it back onto the strainer and leave to drain for 15 minutes. Scoop into a container gently and refrigerate.
The ricotta will last 2 weeks in the fridge, but I'd recommend using it as soon as possible when its flavour is the most beautiful.
*citric acid is available in natural food stores, anywhere that sells cheese making supplies and even your local pharmacy.
How to use your homemade ricotta?
Replace some or all of that fresh mozzarella on homemade pizza, with a scattering of spinach
Toss into pasta with sausage and steamed broccoli
Stir in fresh or dried herbs and spices and drizzle with olive oil and spread on crackers
Other Ricotta Recipes on Lemon Tart: