Anyone who’s shared a home (or test kitchen) with me knows I have a weakness for cheese. If there’s a nutty alpine-style wedge or a round of creamy Bonne Bouche in the fridge, I can’t avoid its siren-call for one meal. (Sorry to those whose Cheddar has ever gone missing…) But, other dairy products languish in my refrigerator without a thought. I buy a quart of yogurt or pint of sour cream for a recipe, only to find colonies of mold coating the leftovers.
Ricotta has gone the same way of yogurt and sour cream, despite its technical categorization as cheese. Most store-bought brands have a spongy texture and a bland flavor, plus they are usually rife with stabilizers. (The one exception I know is Salvatore Bklyn ricotta, which is smooth and rich, but it’s pricier.)
Then, my friend’s mom hired me to teach a cooking class to eight middle schoolers. I included no-knead sandwich bread and homemade ricotta in the curriculum. Ricotta is a fun, kid-friendly project that has a great aha moment: pouring the acid in causes the curds to separate from the whey in a matter of minutes. Ladle the curds into a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl and you’ve got ricotta. (The whey is a great swap for water in the no-knead bread recipe. Save it for up to 1 week.)
One taste of the homemade variety and I was hooked. I slathered it on warm toast, drizzled with a peppery olive oil, and showered it with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper twice daily until the batch was gone.
Even though it’s easy and quick to make, the real reason to DIY ricotta is for the pure milk flavor with a bright, lemony tang. A note on ingredients: it’s worth splurging on high-quality organic milk. If you have a dairy stand at the farmers’ market, now is the time to indulge. This is about highlighting quality, otherwise there’s a yellow tub with your name on it at the store.
Serve this drizzled with oil and crackers, ideally with prosciutto, salad, and your other favorite sides nearby. Oh, and pour some rose, beer, or whatever your favorite drink is, too.
Makes about 1 quart
12 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup fresh lemon juice (you can also use distilled white vinegar)
2 teaspoons salt
Cheesecloth, strainer, large pot, candy thermometer or an instant-read thermometer
Line a strainer with triple-folded cheesecloth. Set over a large bowl. Set aside.
Combine the milk and cream in a large pot over medium heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, if you have one. Warm the milk to 200º F. (This should take about 20 minutes.) Remove from the heat; stir in the lemon juice and salt. When the curds have separated from the whey, about 10 minutes, ladle them into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Pour the remaining whey into the strainer and save for bread or discard.
Let drain until ricotta reaches the desired consistency, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Ricotta will keep for up to 1 week.