Ricotta cheese is widely used in Italian cooking in everything from appetizers to desserts. It is a very soft, low-fat cheese that is actually a by-product of cheese making because it is made from the whey that has been separated from the curd in the process of actually making cheese. It is in fact, technically a dairy product rather than an actual cheese because of this. Ricotta translates as “recooked” and was originally made in Rome when it was discovered that the whey could be reheated, then strained, thereby getting its name. Although any type of milk can be used to make ricotta, in southern Italy either sheep’s milk or goat milk is used most often. I however to make my ricotta, I used what was most readily available to me, which is whole cow’s milk.
Making ricotta cheese at home turned out to be even simpler than I expected, and I have now made it a number of times with very good results. Basically all you need to make ricotta cheese is whole milk and some type of acid to form the curds. I am including three different recipes for ricotta, using different types of acid. These include citric acid and vinegar which I have used many times in the past, as well as buttermilk which is one I have just recently tried and think I prefer. I thought the buttermilk gave the ricotta an extra depth of flavor I really enjoyed.
I like to use homemade ricotta cheese in both my Lasagna Magro recipe, as well as Ricotta Gnocchi which I top with a Gorgonzola cheese sauce, and both dishes are really delicious made with homemade ricotta. I have also created a tasty dessert using my fresh, homemade ricotta by simply adding enough sugar to sweeten it, some grated lemon zest and a few teaspoons of fresh, lemon juice. I served this with fresh berries and it too was very tasty. This ricotta will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week, or can be frozen. I did attempt this recipe with low fat milk, but the results were not favorable at all. The resulting cheese was rubbery and had an unpleasant gray color. Using whole milk, I found the ricotta I made creamy white in color, with a light, fresh flavor. The last time I made ricotta since I knew I was planning on using it to make a dessert, I added a cup and a half of heavy cream, removing the same amount of milk. The resulting ricotta was even creamier than on my previous attempts, and was just perfect for my cheesecake recipe.
Note: For best results, use a good quality whole organic milk.
Method One: (Yields 1 3/4 to 2 pounds Ricotta)
1 Gallon Whole Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Citric Acid
1 Teaspoon Salt
Place the milk, citric acid and salt in a non-reactive heavy pot and heat it to 195 degrees F. You will need to stir the milk occasionally to prevent scalding. Once the curds have formed and separated from the whey, turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes. Line a colander or large sieve with two layers of cheesecloth, and pour the mixture into it. Let the cheese drain for 1 hour or until you have reached the dryness you desire. Store the cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Method Two: (Yields About 3 1/2 Cups)
1 Gallon Whole Pasteurized Milk
1/3 Cup White Distilled Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Salt
Heat the milk in a heavy, non-reactive pot until it reaches 185 degrees F. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar and salt. Stir gently just to mix. The curds will begin to form immediately. Cover the pot and let sit for 2 hours to allow the curds to fully develop. Line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth, and pour the mixture into it. Let the cheese drain for one to two hours depending on how dry you want your ricotta cheese to be. Store the ricotta in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Method Three: (Yields 1 to 1/2 Pound)
1 Gallon Whole Milk
1 Quart Buttermilk
Combine the milk and buttermilk in a heavy, non-reactive pot and heat it until it reaches 180 degrees F., stirring occasionally. Once it has reached 180 degrees, remove from the heat and let it sit for 30 minutes to allow the curds to form. Lin a colander with two layers of cheesecloth, and pour the mixture into it. Let the ricotta drain for 1 to 2 hours and then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Note: The whey, or creamy yellow liquid that separates from the curds can be used in any recipe calling for sour milk or buttermilk.
Types Of Ricotta:
- Basic Rresh Ricotta, used in fillings for stuffed pasta, or as desserts, has a lumpy, soft consistency, and its creamy curds have almost a sweet taste. This is what we generally find available here in the US. Sheep and goat’s milk ricotta will have a nutty-sweet taste, while cow’s milk ricotta will have a milder flavor. Whenever possible, buy freshly made, premium ricotta. If unavailable, whole milk Polly-O, which is available in most supermarkets, is a reasonable substitute.
- Ricotta Forte is from the region of Puglia and is made in the same way, except that salt is added before the cheese is put in containers to cool. Over the next few months, the ricotta is moved from container to container, working it to remove excess liquid. The final cheese is yellow, with a sharp flavor.
- Ricotta Romana is made by cooking the cheese a little longer, giving it a more compact texture than other ricotta cheese. It is used in dishes both savory and sweet.
- Ricotta Infornata is a firm ricotta from Sicily, which has been dried and salted before it is covered in cracked black pepper.
- Ricotta Salata is salted ricotta that has been allowed to age and become firm. It is often served sprinkled on many pasta dishes, but is also great crumbled on salads, and sauted vegetables.
Tips For Using Ricotta:
- If your ricotta is watery, or seems very wet, it is a good idea to put the ricotta in a strainer and set it over a bowl in the refrigerator for an hour before using it. This is particularly a good idea when using ricotta as an ingredient in stuffing for pasta.
- To make a great spread for toast or quick breads, mix 2 cups of ricotta with four tablespoons of honey, and a teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Sweeten fresh ricotta with some honey or powdered sugar, and serve for dessert with fresh fruit.
- Fold half a cup of ricotta into spicy tomato meat sauce for a change of pace.
Revised January 2012