November 13, 2012

fresh ricotta

Three months ago, after starting a new job, I found a new culinary curiosity and challenge-- fresh ricotta cheese. This subtle, spreadable charmer is featured on the menu at my work place and so I began conversing with the lady of the kitchen on how she whips this customer favorite together. In addition to my cheese chat, I also scoured recipes online to hear what different cooks had to say. What I came to learn is that the process of making fresh ricotta is a ridiculously simple one.

Fresh ricotta is one of the few cheeses you can make without interning at a creamery or getting too technical. Though traditional ricotta is made from the whey of mozzarella cheese, this version is made from simple ingredients; whole milk, cream or buttermilk, lemon and/or white vinegar and optionally, salt. That is all. Beyond that you will need a pot, wooden spoon, cheesecloth, colander and bowl. After a few different attempts, this is the recipe I have settled on and am starting to perfect.

4 cups of whole milk
1 cup of cream
large pinch of sea salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Start by adding your milk and cream and salt to a sauce pan or small pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally while you wait for the milk to come to a boil being careful to not scald the milk. In the meantime line a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth and position this over a large bowl. Once the milk begins to boil, remove it from the heat and stir in both the lemon juice and vinegar. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes to curdle. Then pour the entire batch into the cloth-lined colander and let it strain anywhere from 5-15 minutes. I prefer closer to 15, which will produce a drier, crumbling finish. You can always add back some whey that has drained into the bowl below. At this point you can refrigerate for about a week (if it lasts that long) or put some crushed or chopped herbs in while it's still a bit warm. I did this to the last batch I made adding about a tablespoon of both parsley and chives along with crushed black pepper. And just a word about the leftover whey... DO NOT throw it away! There is so much to do with it! Tonight I plan on using it in my polenta in place of water. For other ideas you can find them here.


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