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?
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.