Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homemade Ricotta from Whole Milk

 Most of us associate Ricotta with cannoli, baked ziti or lasagna, but Ricotta is a delicious soft cheese. It is highly perishable and is similar to cottage cheese - without the acid flavor.  I've always considered ricotta to be an ideal baby food. It is soft and creamy and clean tasting.  The biggest objection that I've heard is that ricotta's texture is somewhat thick or curdy. But, this can be solved with the addition of milk or a few pulses in the food processor.
Homemade Ricotta is not only possible to make, it is relatively easy.  It is very time consuming and requires making sure all equipment is sterile and the ingredients are fresh.
Ricotta is usually made from whey (remember Little Miss Moffet and curds and whey?) which is the slightly cloudy liquid that drains from the cheesemaking process.
Ricotta cheese, however, can be made without whey and can instead be made with milk, either from cow, buffalo or goat.  My father and I took some time on a rainy/snowy afternoon and made two batches of Ricotta, one from whole milk and one from whey.
Now, whey, the by product of cheese making is very low in protein, so it requires a LOT of whey to make a little bit of cheese.  Making ricotta with milk or even using milk to extend whey is a very common way to get more cheese from a batch.
My father had a bunch of cheese making tools and even made a mold in preparation.
 The stainless steel mold on the left and the plastic one on the right are cheese molds, designed to allow the whey to drain from the curds.  In the background is a clever make shift mold, a to-go foil dish with holes punched throughout.

My father took out an antique cheese press as well.  We didn't use this, but it is quite interesting!
He also had some beautiful wooden scoops used for stirring and scooping the liquids.
 We made sure all the equipment was sterilized, pots, pans, measuring cups, scoops and molds.  We measured the milk and salt and poured it into the giant pot.  We heated the milk on a very low flame.  It took over an hour to bring the milk to temperature.
Stir occasionally and do not allow it to scorch.
 In the meantime, we set up the "whey station". Since we wanted to save the whey, we placed a giant (sterilized) stainless steel bowl in the sink. We added a metal drying rack on top of the bowl and then set a cheese mold that was lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth on top of the rack.
 When the milk reached temperature, we added the lemon juice and let it sit for 5 minutes.  The milk curdled beautifully for cheese making... Then my father slowly poured the hot curds through the molds.  We realized soon that we needed a second mold for the amount of curds we made.
 The whey slowly drains out of the curds.  (You can see it yellow looking while hot in the bowl.
 After the curds cool - approximately an hour or so, the ricotta can be tied off.  I gently, but firmly secured rubber bands around the cheesecloth. This caused more whey to run off.  After another hour, it had drained and cooled thoroughly. I placed the freshly made ricotta into containers and stored them into the fridge until ready to use.
 And then I went to town making cannoli...
And savory Onion, Pepper and Zucchini topped Ricotta Crostini.

Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta

1 gallon whole milk (16 cups)
2 cups heavy cream
3 tsp salt
12 T freshly squeezed lemon juice, drained of seeds

Clean and sterilize the pot, molds and measuring cup.  Pour the milk, cream and salt into a large saucepan.  Heat over low heat until the mixture reaches 190 degrees F.  Stir occasionally and if you are at all concerned about the milk scorching, use a double boiler.
While the milk is heating, line one or two cheese molds or colanders with cheesecloth.  (Clean muslin will work even better than cheesecloth.)
Check the temperature and when it reaches 190, slide the pot off the the hot burner and add the lemon juice.  Stir just until combined and let sit unbothered for 5 minutes.  You will notice the mixture curdling immediately.  (Time it, but leave it no longer than 10 minutes.)
Slowly pour the mixture through the cheesecloth lined mold. It will take a few moments for the whey to drain enough to empty the entire pot.
Let sit for an hour.
Tie off the cheesecloth or use a rubberband to secure the cheesecloth around the cheese.
After it is cool, remove the cheesecloth and place it in a covered container.  Keep in the fridge.
Use as desired.
The ricotta can be thinned with milk or cream if needed to use in recipes.

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