I never thought about making any kind of cheese at home until one day when I found myself stuck with a pound of grainy and watery store bought mascarpone cheese that I needed for making a tiramisu cake for my colleague’s birthday celebration. Long story short, after browsing the Internet for a few minutes, I came to realize that making mascarpone cheese was ridiculously easy, and so I decided to give it a try. I made a batch that same night, and the next day I had the best mascarpone cheese I had ever tasted. At least that’s what I thought. It doesn’t matter, it tasted absolutely fantastic to me – silky smooth, creamy, with a nice firm consistency. That’s how my cheese making journey began.
Ricotta is another cheese I now frequently make at home. It’s very easy to make, the results are consistent, and the final product is much, much better that most store bought varieties. What I really like about ricotta cheese is its versatility. It can be used for both savory and sweet dishes, from ravioli, lasagna, cannelloni to cannoli, sfogliatelle and ricotta cheesecake. Oh, and the ricotta and spinach topped pizza – one of the all-time favorites in our house. So, if you want to learn about how to make ricotta cheese at home, read on.
Ricotta has been a traditional cheese in Italy for ages. It can be made from both skim milk and whole milk. It can also be made from whey, the yellowish liquid that is byproduct of, well, cheese making after curds separate from liquid. Some proteins remain in the liquid, and can be extracted to form ricotta cheese. And if you are an adventurous type, you can make ricotta cheese from a combination of the above. Adding some heavy cream into the mix will increase creaminess and richness of ricotta cheese, if that is what you desire. I do that often for sweet dishes. But, whatever you do, try to get the best milk and cream you can. The better and the fresher the milk, the better your ricotta cheese will taste and smell.
To make ricotta cheese you need to apply heat and acidity to the milk. Adding some salt helps balance out the sweetness of milk. Citric acid, commonly found in most grocery stores, is added to milk, which is then slowly heated to about 190-195F. When milk reaches the temperature of 165-175F, you should start seeing small curds or flakes forming.
Continue heating the milk until it reaches 190-195F, take it off the stove and let it sit for 15 minutes. Do not stir! At this stage the curds will complete formation and rise to the top. Make sure you use an accurate instant read thermometer as that will really help get the best results and avoid throw-away batches. I am using my trusty ThermoWorks Thermapen instant read cooking thermometer and, if you are looking for a good cooking thermometer, I can definitely recommend this one. I use it for everything – when cooking meat, fish, chicken and many other things. It really helps when you can measure internal temps in a matter of second or two. Bottom line is – if you want optimum results with your cheese making process, a good cooking thermometer is indispensable.
Ladle the curds very gently into cheese cloth lined strainer and drain until the desired consistency, anywhere from 15 minutes to 3-6 hours. I noticed that the less careful I am when transferring the curds into the strainer, the longer it takes for the ricotta to reach proper consistency. Also, creamier ricotta also tends to drain longer. So, keep that in mind.
Once drained, ricotta cheese can be refrigerated from 4 – 10 days. I’ve had batches that kept well for up to 10 and even 12 days, while some did not last more than 5-6. I think milk preservation methods play a big role in this. Another factor is dryness, or water content, of the cheese – drier cheeses typically outlast those that contain more water.
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp citric acid
- Pour whole milk and heavy cream into a large pot
- Dissolve 2 tsp of citric acid in 1 cup of cold water
- Add half of the citric acid solution and 1 tsp of salt to the milk and cream. Stir the mix for 10-15 seconds.
- Heat the solution slowly, on low to medium heat, stirring every few minutes to prevent milk scorching.
- Check the temperature regularly using a thermometer.
- Once the temperature reaches 165-175F you should see small cheese curds / flakes forming. You can check for that using a perforated skimmer, as shown on the picture above.
- If curd formation has not started, start adding the remaining citric acid solution, one table spoon at a time, and gently stirring the mix until you start seeing small curd forming.
- Keep heating the mix to 190-195F without stirring. Once the target temperature is reached, remove the pot from heat.
- Let the mix sit for 15-20 minutes. At this point you should see cheese curds rise to the top and clump together.
- Ladle cheese curds into a strainer lined with cheese cloth, and let it drain anywhere from 15 minutes to 3-6 hours at room temperature, depending on the desired consistency and thickness.
- Once draining is completed, place your ricotta cheese into a container, cover and store in a refrigerator.