A collection of seasonal recipes and stories

homemade ricotta

I’ve been meaning to make fresh ricotta ever since I opened Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and read, “Yes, you can make cheese, and I strongly urge you to give it a try.”  (Well, okay then, I think I will.)  But I hadn’t gotten around to it for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was my suspicion that ricotta might be a gateway cheese:  one day you’re happily boiling store-bought milk in your kitchen and the next you’re trying to convince your boyfriend that there’s really no reason not to keep just one or two small goats in the backyard.

Well, ricotta made; suspicions confirmed.  Oh wait.  Have I moved on to goats while you’re still back there wondering why anyone in their right mind would make something that’s readily available at even the lamest of grocery stores?

One word:  cows.  See that cute little cow on the milk bottle?  I’ve been to the dairy and met that cow.  I even let her lick me.  Okay, maybe not that cow, but a cow. So I have it on good authority that these cows live a very happy life, whereas the grocery store ricotta cows most likely do not.  Somewhere in between is organic ricotta — it’s possible that the cows are treated humanely but I really can’t be certain.  And I’m not comfortable with that.

Plus, ricotta is a snap.  Bittman assures us that making fresh cheese is almost as easy as boiling milk, but I’d go one step further:  making ricotta is as easy as boiling milk.  Seriously.  You boil milk, dump in some buttermilk, and then pour it all through a strainer lined with cheesecloth.  The hardest part is finding the cheesecloth.  Unless, you know, you live in some place that has real stores.

And in addition to the feeling of accomplishment, fresh ricotta tastes way better than anything you can buy at the store.  I think I boiled mine too long and drained it too much and still it was yummier than any ricotta I’d previously encountered.  And did I mention it cost half as much to make it as to buy it?

Fresh Ricotta
adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian 
(makes about 1.5 pounds)

1/2 gallon milk
2 c. buttermilk
pinch of salt
squeeze of lemon

1) Line a strainer with three layers of cheesecloth and place over a large heat-proof bowl.

2)  Pour the milk into a large pot and heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently so that the milk doesn’t scorch.  Continue stirring until the milk begins to bubble, about 10-15 minutes.

3) Add the buttermilk to the boiling milk all at once and stir constantly until the mixture separates into curds and whey.  This will look like egg whites suspended in a yellowish liquid.  (this happened pretty much immediately for me)  Remove from the heat; stir in a large pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

4) Carefully pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and let it drain for 15-30 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency.  

5)  Scoop the ricotta into a container and store it in the refrigerator.  You’re supposed to discard the whey, but I just can’t bring myself to do that.  Apparently you can use it as the liquid in any recipe that calls for one (rice, soup, bread. . .even lemonade) or water your plants with it or, if all else fails, dump it on your compost pile.

20 responses

  1. I don’t know… it’s pretty damn easy to pick up a carton at the store too. :D

    July 26, 2008 at 1:54 am

  2. this is my new favorite blog…..

    as for ricotta
    when you dump a ton of homemade tomato sauce on it — the store bought would seem easier

    July 27, 2008 at 6:23 am

  3. In two weeks my bride and I are going to visit an organic farm just north of here and take a one day class on deciding if you’re suited for small farming. They also run classes on topics like bee keeping and cheesemaking.

    Don’t joke about going from cheesemaking to wanting to raise a goat or two. I think we’re heading in that direction ourselves.

    And that cheese looks delicious.

    July 27, 2008 at 10:15 am

  4. Megan

    Easy schmeasy. :-)

    Bubs, that sounds fantastic! I want to hear all about it. And although I said it tongue-in-cheek, I wasn’t really joking about the goats. I’ve been unsuccessfully pestering Chris for months about getting chickens and one of the first things I said after making the ricotta was, “Maybe we should get a goat.”

    July 27, 2008 at 10:30 am

  5. Get a Nigerian Pygmy goat. They’re supposed to be prolific milk producers.

    July 27, 2008 at 4:51 pm

  6. Hooray! You’re back!

    July 27, 2008 at 5:49 pm

  7. I hate you. My cheese making experience is a freaking disaster, and you’re all “la la la, look at my perfect ricotta.” bite me.

    July 28, 2008 at 1:18 pm

  8. Oh, the cheese book suggests using the whey in bread dough for one, and mixed with koolaid for another.

    July 28, 2008 at 8:18 pm

  9. I want a goat so bad. I love goats. I used to milk them and care for them at the Lincoln Park Farm in the Zoo when I was a volunteer. They are so smart, and playful, and funny. It was hilarious when they would trick a schoolkid and eat his lunch!

    Goat milk is much easier to digest too, because the goat is closer in size to a human, and thus the milk has fat globuals that are smaller.

    But seriously, though, Megan, this is weird because I made homemade cheese curds this weekend. I cooked my milk with a garlic clove, and threw in some finely chopped basil at the last second. Now it is in the fridge being pressed with a weight to see if I can get it to congeal into one piece of cheese. The recipe I have did not call for buttermilk, though, so maybe I should try yours as well.

    July 28, 2008 at 9:03 pm

  10. Thank you. You have just inspired my project for the day.

    July 31, 2008 at 7:45 am

  11. I really enjoyed your blog. I love the name of it. and your photos are very nice. :]

    Looking forward to seeing what else you come up with.


    July 31, 2008 at 12:45 pm

  12. Megan, btw, I pressed my curds and I got a solid piece of cheese! Cool!

    I left it in the cheesecloth, and put it in a small bowl, and then on top I put a jar filled with water (for weight) that fit snugly inside the bowl. I emptied some residual whey out of the bowl a couple of times over the next 24 hours. The next day, solid cheese!

    July 31, 2008 at 1:25 pm

  13. Cool! My mom used to make cheese! She learned all the stuff growing up very poor in the depression. She could make soap, all kinds of cheese, and she knew how to make a whole animal useful – no waste (although I know that’s not your thing!)

    I have yet to see an egg, but I love, love, love my chickens! NOTHING goes to waste! They eat all the scraps from the kitchen. My niece gave me roses and when they wilted I gave them to the chickens! If a veggie gets too old (I mean really, really bad…) it goes to the chickens. It’s great!!!

    I might have to think about a goat. I love goat cheese!

    Get some chickens!! You will love it. I’ll post about the chickens real soon.

    August 1, 2008 at 9:10 pm

  14. I learned how to make cheese in an Indian cooking class I took one day a couple of years ago. The recipe was very similar, except instead of buttermilk, we used an acid like lemon juice to curdle the milk. I assume the buttermilk you buy is also from happy cows? (You know I’m with you this topic!)

    August 4, 2008 at 4:08 pm

  15. Meaghan

    You do have a lot of time on your hands. Know what I did this week? Thawed out chicken. I didn’t have time to cook it or anything, but the thought was there.

    Your blog is beautiful. Where are those photo cards I’m supposed to be selling in my store? I’ll sell food photos, they’re so pretty!!!

    August 5, 2008 at 11:06 am

  16. Jess

    Ok so when are you coming back to cook for me! Yes I am self centered and am leaving Rob out. Your page looks awesome.

    August 7, 2008 at 8:07 am

  17. CP

    Glad to see you’re blogging again. Pretty!

    August 8, 2008 at 12:33 am

  18. Megan

    *ignores Lulu*

    Wow, who knew that many people loved goats? :-)

    Vikki – How ’bout if you work on Chris for a while? Let’s start with chickens and work our way up to goats. I definitely need to try my hand at actual cheese now, especially since you’ve done the preliminary testing and gotten such good results.

    Sister Joyous Whip of Enlightenment – Thanks for the visit!

    Bubbles – Coordinate your efforts with Vikki.

    Melissa – Same cows!

    Meaghan – I guess we’ll shoot for next year on the cards? This time I mean it.

    Jess – How ‘boout a pre or post Thanksgiving potluck?

    CP – Thanks!

    August 13, 2008 at 7:38 pm

  19. Susan

    Where can you get cheesecloth – not those tiny Sunbeam packs for $4.99?

    August 21, 2008 at 10:03 am

  20. Megan

    Susan – I live in a fairly rural area and small packets of cheesecloth are available in my grocery. I’ve also seen them at Bed Bath & Beyond. I’d think that in NYC you could get cheesecloth just about anywhere. However, unbleached muslin, available at any old fabric store, is a good and inexpensive alternative. Thanks for the visit!

    August 25, 2008 at 6:24 pm

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