Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese

Posted by hsimpsongrossman on June 11, 2014

Did you know that plastic milk bags use less plastic than plastic milk containers, making them less environmental harmful than the latter?  And that they are often cheaper? And that once washed and dried inside out, they can be reused as sandwich bags or for freezing food?

Unfortunately, as much as I love planet earth I cannot use those friendly bags, as Better Half is terrified of them.  He must have had a traumatic encounter with a surprisingly unfriendly one at a young age and has never recovered.  Otherwise, how would you explain the terror on his face when, 19 years ago, a newlywed Truly Yours ,not accustomed to buying the more expensive (and less environmental friendly) cartons, brought such a bag home?

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese The Enemy
The Enemy

“Oh no! We can’t use those! They’ll tear, leak into the fruits and vegetables drawers and make the whole kitchen stink! And when they topple over in that plastic jag, the crusted sour milk residue sticks to the bottom of the jug forever! Please, I’d rather pay a few extra Shekels than take those risks!”

As difficult as it was, I agreed to switch to milk cartons, though every now and then I felt an itch to buy a jug and a milk bag just to prove to him that life with milk bags doesn’t have to be smelly, especially if you live with someone who loves cleaning her fridge often.

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Not in Our House
Not in Our House

I stuck to my resolution for over 19 years, until a couple of weeks ago the cheese lady in my supermarket informed me that there was no ricotta left.  Ricotta, you see, has become my new thing thanks to my Forum friend Yeela.  I consume at least a pound a week – I love it on a slice of bread, with pasta, inside Majhul dates, in cakes and between lasagna leaves.  I inquired as to the estimated arrival date of a new batch.  “Oh” she said “not before Monday”.  It was Wednesday.  A quick calculation put me at six whole days without ricotta.

On the verge of despair I remembered that my other Forum friend, Bizul, had mentioned a few recipes for homemade ricotta on her blog the other day.  Alas, those recipes specifically required  using not UHT (Ultra High Temperature) pasteurized milk, which in Israel comes in, yup you guessed correctly, plastic bags.  Given that the evidence was expected to be destroyed by the time Better Half comes home I took a deep breath, added 2 bags of milk to my shopping cart and headed home to play with my food.

I would love to boast that I got it right the first time, but I didn’t.  All the resources I checked had suggested equal amounts of either vinegar or lemon juice as catalysts (along with the right temperature) for the chemical reaction which results in the clamping of the casein protein in milk and it’s separation from the whey.  Yet for some reason using freshly squeezed lemon juice didn’t result in curdling, but rather in a buttermilk like liquid which wasn’t going anywhere.

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Failed Attempt
Failed Attempt

I tried again with regular distilled white vinegar and this time I witnessed the miraculous curdling occurring instantly.  This batch came out solid yet creamy and was gone within a few days.  I made a second, bigger batch less than a week later. It’s a piece of cheese cake to make, much tastier (in my opinion) and more economical then the store bought kind and a great experience for the kids, to see how what they are used to buying in a tub is actually made.

I didn’t have cheese cloth and used a brand new cloth nappy which was spared while clearing His Royal Highness’s toddler stuff.  As mentioned above, I used whole pasteurized milk (not UHT (Ultra High Temperature) pasteurized), as the heating process the latter undergoes changes the protein structure of the milk, preventing it from separating.  While a few of the sources I checked (Smitten Kitchen, Epicurious, The Kitchn and others) had suggested replacing a cup (or less) of the milk with heavy cream, I wanted to try it first with whole milk.  Seeing I loved the less fatty version so much, I didn’t feel the need to try the richer version.

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Perfect
Perfect

The ricotta can drain anywhere from 20 minutes and up to a couple of hours, depending on how firm you prefer it.  I smeared some on a slice of bread after about half an hour into the draining process (needed some immediate gratification) and it was already creamy and velvety.  I let the rest drain longer and at some point even hang the cloth over the sink, squeezing it every now and again, for a firmer texture, mainly for the pictures…  Ordinarily, I drain the cheese for about 20 minutes as I prefer the cheese being more moist to picture perfect.  The more you drain the cheese, the higher the fat percentage of the cheese will be.

If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.  Which reminds me-don’t forget to put a bowl under your strainer/colander to collect the whey, as it’s great in pizza and bread dough (instead of water).

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Immediate Gratification
Immediate Gratification

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese on the spot: Warm up milk.  Mix in vinegar and salt.  Let set.  Drain.  Voilà!

06.29.2014 update: I want to share with you what Savta Esther wrote to me after having read the ricotta post: “The recipe brought back childhood memories. When I was growing up in Germany in the 1930’s, there was no refrigeration – not in the home, not in the local (or any) grocery.  Supermarkets were not yet in existence.  My parents did have an ice box.  One could have blocks of ice delivered to the door (by horse and buggy), but we did that only when we were preparing for a two – or three-day yom tov.   (Non-pasteurized) milk, ladled from a very large milk container into a vessel provided by the customer, was delivered to the door several days a week, and to keep it from spoiling, one had to re-boil what was left over after 24 hours.  Same system for left-over chicken soup. To get back to ricotta:  I remember my mother (whose name, by the way, was Hanny) letting milk deliberately get sour and pouring the curdled milk into a cloth draped over a pot (the pictures you sent looked so familiar).  I don’t think she used vinegar or lemon juice.   Anyway, this was not done on a regular basis, and I treasured the occasions when my mother made this cheese.  I don’t remember if it had a name, but it definitely was not called ricotta.”

Homemade Ricotta

Ingredients, for a bit less than a pound (a bit more than 400 grams):

8 cups (2 liters, 1/2 gallon) whole milk, not UHT pasteurized

1/3 cup distilled white vinegar or 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 1/2 to 2 lemons)- note that lemon didn’t work for me

1 teaspoon salt, optional

Method:

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese My Blue Pot
My Blue Pot

Pour the milk into a large and heavy pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to about 185-190° degrees Fahrenheit (85 degrees Celsius), monitoring the temperature with an instant read thermometer and stirring constantly to prevent from scoring. The milk will get foamy and start to steam.  Remove it from the heat if it starts to boil.

Upon reaching said temperature, remove the pot from the heat. Pour in the vinegar (or lemon juice) and the salt. Stir gently, just to combine.  You should notice the separation and curdling process commencing within seconds.  If you don’t notice separation, add another tablespoon of vinegar (a bit more if still necessary).

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Curdling
Cheese Curdling

Let the milk sit undisturbed for about 30 minutes for further separation.

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Further Curdling
Further Curdling

Set a strainer or a colander over a bowl and line the strainer/colander with cheese cloth (clean cloth nappy in my case). Carefully pour the content of the pot into the lined strainer.

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Patience is a Virtue
Patience is a Virtue

Let the ricotta drain for 30 minutes and up to a couple of hours, depending on how moist or dry you prefer your ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Nice and Solid
Nice and Solid

If, like me, you like your ricotta very firm, find a way to hang the cloth over your sink or a bowl, bundle up your cheese, squeeze out extra whey, tie it and let drip further.  If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese Miniature Dairy Barn
Miniature Dairy Barn

Fresh ricotta can be used right away and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days (sometimes a bit longer).

Homemade Ricotta Style Cheese I'm in Love
I’m in Love

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