Now, in full disclosure, this probably isn’t the most cost-effective way to get your hands on good ricotta. You’ll want to start with the highest-quality whole milk you can afford, the really good stuff from that farm where the cows laze about on lounge chairs all day and take turns giving each other pedicures. (It’s worth it.) With that out of the way, we can now turn our attention to the (ridiculously easy) task of preparing fresh cheese at home. No DIY credentials or urban homesteading degree required; if you can boil water and know how to stir, you can make your own ricotta. But why bother, you ask, when all those little plastic tubs are already lined up at the supermarket, ready to go home with you? Because homemade ricotta is hold-the-phone delicious. And that, friends, is enough for me.
You can halve this recipe for a smaller batch, but this makes enough for a large application (stuffed manicotti, say, or a ricotta cheesecake), and the texture won’t go gritty when baked, as with supermarket brands and their weirdo stabilizers and gums. Though perhaps the best way to enjoy ricotta is cold, for breakfast, slathered on a slice of nutty bread, you can also fancy it up with some chopped herbs or a topping (I used sun-dried tomatoes and a little olive oil for my lunch, see above). The addition of salt adds flavor and will help it keep for about a week in the fridge.
adapted from Homemade Cheese by Janet Hurst, 2011; yields about 3 cups
- one gallon whole cow’s milk
- 1/2 C apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon kosher or other non-iodized salt
- 3-4 Tbsp heavy cream for thinning (optional)
- fresh herbs, finely chopped (optional)
In a large pot over medium-low heat, warm the milk, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Test the temperature with a probe or candy thermometer until it reaches about 190 degrees; it will look foamy and steamy, but not boiling or simmering. (How long all this takes will depend on how cold your milk was when you started.) If you think some of the milk may have scorched on the bottom, try to avoid scraping it up with your spoon. When it’s ready, take off the heat and add the vinegar, stirring. Right away, the milk will separate and little bits of curd will form.
Line a colander or large sieve with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Transfer the curds to the colander and let drain for 30 minutes. (You can reserve the whey, the watery liquid left behind, for making oatmeal or polenta. Certain garden plants like azaleas like it, too.) Add the salt and herbs, if using, and stir gently to combine well. Add the heavy cream to thin out a bit, if desired. Keeps about one week, refrigerated and well-sealed.