Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta

Dear Reader,

I’m back!

I made ricotta. It was so much easier than I ever imagined.

Here’s the crazy part — it takes only three ingredients, milk, salt, and vinegar, and twenty minutes.

I might never have tried this had I not been cooking in the kitchen of the non-profit, The Nashville Food Project the morning fellow volunteer cook, Ann Fundis realized there was no ricotta in the walk-in for the vegetable lasagna she was about to make. Never flummoxed about anything, Ann pulled out a gallon of milk, vinegar, and salt and made her own. While she was at it, she pulled out butter, flour, thyme, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and more milk to make a béchamel sauce. She is a rockstar.

I started taking notes as I often do when I cook with Ann. She brought milk and salt to a boil and then added vinegar “until the milk starts to break up.” She let it rest a few minutes and then used a spider (a wide and shallow, wire-mesh spoon) to scoop out the spongy curds that had floated to the surface of the milky-yellow whey.

I tried a spoonful while it was warm. Oh my goodness, the ricotta was moist, fluffy, and delicious. For me, ricotta is at its best when it is freshly made and still warm like this. As it drains and cools, the texture firms up. It has a different mouth feel — still excellent, just different.

Making ricotta was in my future. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to get a gallon of milk.

Ingredients for one quart of ricotta:

1 gallon whole milk (do not use old milk)
1½ teaspoons fine salt
⅓ cup white distilled vinegar or other acidifier (like lemon juice or white balsamic)
olive oil or cooking spray to coat bottom of the pot

Instructions:

Read the Cooking Notes below before starting.

Lightly grease a heavy-bottomed 8-quart saucepan. Pour in milk. Add salt.

Heat milk slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking, until the milk foams and starts to boil. This should take about 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

Add white vinegar, or whichever acid you have chosen to use, and stir. Once the vinegar has been distributed, stop stirring and let the milk curdle for 5-10 minutes without disturbing. It will separate almost immediately into curds and whey, and the curds will float to the top.

There are two ways to extract the curds. One is to use a slotted spoon or a spider.

The other way is to pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined colander or sieve and let the whey drain out. The longer ricotta drains, the drier and firmer it becomes.

I usually spoon it directly into a storage bowl and leave a little whey in the bowl to keep the ricotta moist until I use it.

Cooking Notes:

The pot needs to be large enough to contain the milk as it foams, rises, and comes to a boil.

A common problem that occurs when heating milk is it often burns the bottom of the pan. A scorched pan is a pain to clean and lends a burnt flavor to the end product, often resulting in having to throw the milk out and start over again. I found a solution on Cook’s Illustrated’s website. They suggest lightly spraying the bottom of the saucepan with oil to keep the milk from sticking. Their explanation follows: “When you add milk to a dry pan, it flows into the microscopic imperfections in the pan bottom. As the milk heats, its proteins coagulate and stick to the pan and each other. Misting the pan with vegetable oil spray prior to adding the milk creates a thin film on the pan’s surface, which acts as a barrier and makes milk proteins less likely to adhere.”

I found that when I cooked old milk, milk that was close to its “sell by” date, the ricotta had an unpleasant aftertaste bad enough that I had to throw it away.

Thinking more flavorful acidifiers like lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar would improve the flavor of the ricotta, I gave them each a try. I did not detect an appreciable difference in flavor and went back to using plain vinegar.

I experimented with varying amounts of salt and settled on 1½ teaspoons per gallon of milk, which is very neutral. Since I don’t always know how I am going to use the ricotta during the week, I prefer to be able to control the  saltiness by adding more as needed.

I used whole milk. You can add a cup or two of heavy cream to make the ricotta more deluxe, if desired. I was surprised to see, in some ricotta recipes, that buttermilk was used as the acidifier. I tried it and it worked.

By the way …

The word ricotta comes from the Italian verb to recook. Traditionally, Italian cheesemakers saved and recooked the cauldrons full of whey left over from making other cheeses. The reheated whey would produce clumped proteins, or curds, that were skimmed off and called ricotta. Some cheesemakers still make it this way.

Ways we use homemade ricotta at our house:

Tomato Cobbler and Ricotta Biscuits, a fantastic recipe from The New York Times. It has changed the method I use to make biscuits.

Spinach tortellini, a dollop of ricotta, and @JudysChickens Marinara Sauce

Toast spread with ricotta and a drizzle of local honey. This is what I often eat for breakfast.

Tomato and peach salad with a dollop of ricotta

Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies

Ann’s TNFP Vegetable Lasagna with Roasted Butternut Squash and Sautéed Greens

How do we use the whey?

This recipe makes one quart of ricotta and three quarts of whey. We save the whey and pour it over the dog’s food. She adores it.

Related Posts:
How to Make Yogurt at Home
Homemade Grape Jelly
How to Peel an Orange or Grapefruit Quickly
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled
How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)
How to Make a Thaw Detector for the Freezer

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love that the sweet equals the tart.
I love the cakey center and the crunchy crust.
You are irresistible and please the crowds.
You are Italian, so you are a cookie after my own heart.
You gladden the heart of my brother, Charles, too.
For that, I will continue to make you all the days of my life.

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Yield:  4 dozen

Ingredients:
ricotta lemon cookies
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs (a large egg equals 2 ounces, do not use xl eggs)
1 15-ounce container whole milk ricotta cheese, room temperature
1 lemon, zested
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of one 4-5 oz lemon)

Glaze:
1½ cup powdered sugar
1 lemon, zested
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of one 4-5 oz lemon)

Mise en Place:
There is a fancy cooking term called, mise en place (me-zahn-plahs)It means to “put into place” which in the kitchen means to measure all the ingredients ahead of time, so they are ready to go when you start cooking. I’m frequently in a rush and don’t bother to do this extra step, but today, I decided to give it a try. It was so calming! I plan to make this a regular cooking practice.
ricotta lemon cookies

Measure and combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a small bowl; set aside. Melt the butter; set aside. Measure sugar; set aside. Crack open the two eggs; set aside. Measure ricotta. Zest and juice the lemons.

How to Zest and Juice a Lemon for your Mise en Place:
As part of my mise en place strategy, I did all the prep work on my lemons first. I used the fine-holed Microplane grater to zest the two lemons.  Grating the brightly colored rind of the citrus fruit is a great way to add intense flavor to food. Be careful not to grate past the yellow rind as the white pith below the rind is bitter.
ricotta lemon cookies

Next, slice the lemons in half and squeeze the juices out using a lemon squeezer.
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Instructions:
1) Preheat oven to 375º

2) Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, lightly grease the baking sheets with canola oil.

3). In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for two minutes. Beat for the full two minutes as this will incorporate air into the batter which will make for a lighter cookie.
ricotta lemon cookies

4) Add eggs and beat for 30 seconds.

ricotta lemon cookies

5) Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and ricotta and beat for one minute on medium speed. Be sure to use a spatula to incorporate the ingredients that have settled onto the bottom of the mixing bowl, into the batter.

ricotta lemon cookies

6) Add the flour, baking powder and salt mixture and stir (the lowest speed on a mixer) for a minute. Do not overmix or whip. We don’t want to awaken the gluten in the flour, so the batter becomes elasticky. We want the cookies to have a cake-like texture.

ricotta lemon cookies ricotta lemon cookies ricotta lemon cookies

7) Use a tablespoon to drop the cookie dough onto the pan. Use about one heaping tablespoon of dough for each cookie.

ricotta lemon cookies

8) Bake for 15-20 minutes. After 10 minutes of cooking, rotate your cookie sheets in the oven. Cookies are done when their bottom edges just start to darken.

ricotta lemon cookies

Leave cookies on the pan to cool for 10 minutes. Peel cookies off the parchment paper and place directly on a wire cooling rack so the bottoms can air dry and become crisp.

Mise en Place for Glaze:

1) Mix together powdered sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl and stir.

ricotta lemon cookies
2) When cookies are cool, use a knife to spread a thin layer of glaze over each of them. Let glaze harden for at least three hours before stacking.

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P.S. I’ve heard from relatives that you can make these cookies with orange or lime juice and zest, too.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.