My first homemade cheese post focuses on a true Italian classic, ricotta. Equally as good in sweet dishes as it is in savoury ones and a great cheese to try and make at home.
History of ricotta
Thought to date back to Roman times, the literal translation of ricotta is ‘re-cooked’. This is because it is made with whey, the liquid bi-product of the cheese making process. The leftover whey is reheated, which allows small curds to form. These curds are then drained to become ricotta. It can also be salted, pressed and aged for around 90 days to become Ricotta Salata.
Traditionally, Italian ricottas were made with sheep or, in some cases, buffalo milk. Because neither are that easy to source in the UK, I make my ricotta with cow’s milk. I usually buy whole milk because it results in a creamier and richer cheese.
There are a couple of Italian ricottas that have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. Ricotta Romana PDO is produced with whey from sheep milk. While Ricotta Di Bufala Campana PDO is made with the leftover whey from the buffalo milk used to make Mozzarella di Bufala Campana.
Ricotta is a fresh cheese, which means it contains no preservatives and should be eaten within two or three days of being made. As such it can be a difficult cheese to market because it has a very short shelf life.
How to make ricotta
To help me in my cheese-making journey I bought this kit, which has 20 different cheese recipes to master at home. The kit also contains citric acid, rennet, salt, herbs, a thermometer, cheesecloth and a cheese mould. I’d recommend purchasing this or something similar when you’re starting out. The steps are easy to follow and it’s really rewarding making delicious fresh cheese at home.
The following recipe is more of a cheat’s version of ricotta, as it uses milk rather than the traditional leftover whey. But it’s still very delicious and it is cheaper and produces more cheese than the average pack of ricotta you can buy in the supermarket.
Ingredients – this will make about 350g of ricotta
- 2 litres milk (I use whole milk as it gives a creamier cheese)
- 1 tsp citric acid (dissolved in 125ml water); or 2 tbsp distilled vinegar; or 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt (you can add more or less to suit your taste)
- Large, heavy-bottomed saucepan
- Digital thermometer
- Metal spoon
Pour the milk into a large heavy bottomed saucepan and place over a low heat. Heat the milk to 90°C, stirring regularly so the liquid doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Use your digital thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature. I use a metal spoon to stir the milk when I’m making cheese rather than a wooden spoon. I sterilise the spoon with boiling water first, to reduce the risk of adding any unwanted bacteria to the cheese. I do the same with the thermometer and the cheesecloth to be on the safe side.
Once the liquid reaches 90°C, turn off the heat and add the citric acid (or vinegar or lemon juice if you’re using instead) and the salt. Stir to combine, you will see the solid curds start to form in the pan as they separate from the liquid whey. The liquid will also change from a solid white colour to a slightly opaque lemony colour. If the curds haven’t separated from the whey, you can add more citric acid, vinegar or lemon juice but do this a teaspoon at a time. If you add too much acid it can result in a sour-tasting ricotta.
Let it sit for 10 -15 minutes to give the curds time to solidify in the pan. Line a sieve with your cheesecloth over a large bowl. You can either ladle the cheese curds into the sieve or tip the liquid and curds slowly into the sieve to drain. Don’t throw away the liquid whey – you can use it to make more cheese. I also use it in place of stock to make homemade soups. Leave the cheese to drain for at least 30 minutes or overnight. The longer you leave it, the firmer it will become. Transfer it to the fridge if you’re not going to use immediately and use within three days.
The beauty of ricotta is that it’s delicious in sweet or savoury dishes and can be served at any time of the day.
For breakfast, whip some ricotta with crème fraîche, lemon juice or honey in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Spread it thickly on toast and serve with your favourite jam or chopped fruit. For a savoury option, whip it with olive oil and serve with roasted tomatoes and thyme leaves.
Ricotta is also the perfect cheese for pasta dishes. From homemade tortellini with spinach and pine nuts or for a lighter version of the classic lasagne. It’s also great in a frittata with courgettes or you can bake it whole in the oven with cherry tomatoes, basil and olive oil and serve with some crusty bread.
Looking for dessert options? Ricotta is perfect in cheesecakes or the classic Italian sweet treat cannoli. It’s such a versatile cheese and great to start making at home. If you have a go yourself, I’d love to know how it turned out and what you made with it!