Friday, January 6, 2012

How to: Make ricotta

Recently (and earlier) I've referred to making ricotta onboard - that wonderful sweet creamy cheese.  Bonny, the Italian lady that taught us to do this, told us that making cheese which would be used in cooking dinner was just another part of making the dinner itself in her family.

I have been asked how we do it - it is simplicity itself:
  • In a pan which is large enough, put 1/2 gallon of whole milk and 1 pint of buttermilk.  Mix well.
  • As slowly as possible, heat the mixture to 175°-185°.  DO NOT BOIL!  
  • By the time you get to 160°, curds will probably be starting to form.  This will impede the heat flow by thickening the mixture.  Occasional gentle stirring is in order.  But I repeat, GENTLE.  You don't want to break up the forming curds.  When curd formation begins in earnest at say 170°, cease stirring.
  • Once the mixture reaches 175° to 185° and the curds are beginning to separate from the whey, turn off the heat.  Be careful not to overheat.  Measure the temperature of the mixture in multiple locations - the thickening mixture will trap heat near the source.
  • Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes.  
  • Drape a double layer of cheese cloth over a colander or strainer.  In a pinch you can use another pot, but you'll have to lift out the cheese cloth and dump off the whey as it drains.
  • Using a slotted spoon, carefully and gently scoop out the curds from the whey and place them into the waiting cheese cloth.  Every inch or so of depth, sprinkle on a little salt.
  • The more you drain the cheese, the firmer it will be.  For a nice spreadable cheese, do not over drain
160° - curds starting to form
180° - curds separating from whey
Into the cheese cloth with you!
Drip, drip, drip
Some notes:
  • Don't bother doing this if you feel you must use anything less than whole milk.  Abominations: 2%, 1%, skim milk.
  • If you don't have buttermilk, any source of (edible) acid will do - vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice.  But the character of the resulting cheese will be subtly different.  Try starting with a tablespoon or perhaps two of vinegar or citrus juice.
  • Real cheese cloth works best - not that filmy stuff that you could push your finger thru.  Use a double layer.
  • An oriental noodle spoon - the round flat one with all the tiny holes - works really well for scooping up the curds
  • Don't just discard the whey - it is a wonderful cooking resource.  For example, if you are making pasta, boil it in the (already hot) whey instead of plain water for a wonderfully creamy taste.  You were making pasta, weren't you?



Deborah said...

That sounds good, Bob. Do you have a favorite way of using it? I have some ricotta in the fridge that I need to use up and have been wondering what to do with it.

bob said...

Hi Deborah!

Well let's see. Recently we have eaten ricotta:

o. In a bowl, with blueberries
o. Melted on pasta, with butter
o. In pierogies
o. As a spread, on fancy crackers

Don't let it go to waste!


Deb said...

Use it in lasagne or in homemade ravioli.

S/V Kintala

bob said...

Deb -

How could I have missed those? Absolutely!


Deb said...

And don't forget cheesecake!!

SV Kintala

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