Homemade Ricotta Cheese

ImageLast summer I took a cooking class where we learned how to make a number of summer dishes including raviolis with homemade ricotta.  After the class I never ended up making homemade ricotta.  I was under the impression that making homemade ricotta was an involved process that resulted in a product very similar to the store bought variety.  I didn’t want to go out of my way to make something that would go unnoticed after it was buried in a lasagna or tucked inside of a ravioli drenched in sauce.

It was not until I was reading the cheese issue of Food Network magazine on a plane recently that reminded me of the homemade ricotta I had over the summer. I saw that the estimated time was only a half an hour, so I decided to give it a try. 

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It turns out that it couldn’t be easier to make your own ricotta cheese.  The recipe only calls for a few ingredients and a few kitchen tools including cheesecloth. The unique advantage to making your own ricotta is that you can control the consistency of the final product.  If you want a wetter cheese you can strain it for five minutes but if you want a dryer final product you can strain it for up to a half an hour (which is what I did).

If you are going to take the time and effort to make your own ricotta cheese, make sure that it is the showcase of your dish.  You don’t want to drown it with several other ingredients in a pasta dish where you won’t be able to delineate the difference.

You could serve a simple appetizer by toasting pieces of bread and topping them with fresh ricotta, olive oil and lemon zest.  If you wanted to use it for a snack you could place it on a piece of bread with your favorite jam. You could also use it in a pasta dish, but I would recommend keeping it very simple (I attached some links to ricotta recipes at the end of this post).  I decided to mix my ricotta with lemon juice and zest and fold it into wonton wrappers for quick homemade ravioli – post and recipe coming soon!

Here is the recipe to make homemade ricotta.

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Homemade Ricotta

Recipe from Food Network Kitchens

Ingredients

6 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream (I used 1/2 and 1/2)

Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Directions

Line a large sieve with 2 layers of cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl.

Bring the milk, cream and 1 teaspoon of salt to a simmer in a large nonreactive pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon juice and vinegar continue to stir, simmering until the mixture curdles, about 1 minute.

Pour the mixture into the prepared sieve and let it drain, at least 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes for thicker cheese. Then discard the liquid (whey) from the bottom of the bowl.  Gather the cheese cloth around the ricotta cheese – it will not form a solid ball of cheese. Transfer and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

What is ricotta cheese? Ricotta is a soft Italian cheese with a subtle sweet milk flavor that originated in the Roman countryside.  Some people do not consider Ricotta a cheese at all because it is traditionally made with the by-product (whey) of other Italian cheeses like mozzarella and provolone.

The process of twice cooking, recocta in Latin, later evolved into the cheese’s name, Ricotta or “twice cooked.” The tradition of making ricotta in Italy began when travelers, who were accustomed to cooking their food in large kettles, boiled buttermilk and were left with two parts – curds and whey.  This tradition of making cheese grew popular in Italy and became a popular dish to serve to guest.  Today, ricotta cheese is still very popular in traditional Italian cuisine and it is used in both sweet and savory dishes like cannoli and lasagna.

Recipes using ricotta cheese:

Giada’s Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

Giada’s Chocolate Ricotta Pie

Gabriele Corcos’ Ricotta Pancake’s

Chuck Hughes Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

Source:

"Homemade Ricotta." Recipe : Food Network Kitchens : Recipes : Food Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.

"Kitchen Dictionary: Ricotta Cheese." Ricotta Cheese. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2013.