Growing up in Italy I developed a few obvious addictions: pasta Bolognese, perfect thin crust pizza, Parmiggiano Reggiano, authentic Tiramisu and anything made with Ricotta cheese. Throughout my early twenties, when dancing all night and sleeping till noon was my thing, I always had a jar of cheap Ricotta in my fridge. Thank goodness I got married and fell in love with cooking! After making my first batch of fresh Ricotta from scratch, I never used store bought stuff again.
If you love Ricotta like I do, PLEASE try making it yourself. You won't believe how much better it tastes and most of all, how incredibly easy it is to make. Heat up some milk and cream, add salt and acid, let it drain until you reach desired thickness and... that's it! It's so creamy, decadent and yet, light. I can't get enough of it. I make a batch a couple of times a month and store it in the fridge for fabulous quick snacks and meals.
Throw it in some eggs for an amazing frittata, spread on some toasted bread with a choice of topping, dollop some on a pizza, add to pasta, make gnocchi with it, or my favorite: just scoop a little into a bowl, drizzle with honey, grind a bit of black pepper and top with any sweet seasonal fruit.
In the fall or winter, I love to serve it with some thinly sliced Fuyu persimmons, apples or pears. In the spring, with peas or fava beans and some mint. In the summer, peaches, of course, or perfectly ripe tomatoes.
Feel free to substitute the Meyer lemon with regular lemon, but if you can get your hands on the Meyers... it's so worth it! They add a little sweet floral citrusy flavor that is unlike any other. I hope you try making this recipe, you'll never be able to eat store bought Ricotta again. Enjoy!
Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients
1/2 gallon whole milk (or 8 cups) preferably organic
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tbs flaky salt (such as Maldon)
5 tbs fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: Cheesecloth and a Temperature Thermometer
Step 2: Measure Out Milk and Cream
Measure out 8 cups of milk and 3/4 cup of cream and pour into a medium sized saucepan. Turn heat to medium heat.
Step 3: Heat the Milk and Cream
Slowly heat the milk and cream, stirring occasionally with spatula, over medium heat. Either use a clip on instant candy thermometer or a good one like in the photo, the Thermapen (I LOVE that thing!). Be careful not to burn or overflow! Watch the pan closely and start measuring temperature after 10 minutes. You want to heat it to 185 degrees, so as soon as it reaches 180 or so, it's close. If you let it go to high, the milk will bubble and overflow. If you get it too hot, just take it off heat and wait until temp drops to 185. It's the best temperature for the curds to form.
Step 4: Prepare the Strainer
Place a strainer over a bowl. Cut a double layer of cheesecloth to fit into the strainer and place that on top.
Step 5: Squeeze Lemon Juice
Cut a Meyer lemon (or regular lemon) in half and squeeze out all the juice. You should have about 5 tbs, but 4 tbs will work also. Don't add too much or it will be too lemony. And make sure to catch all the seeds so they don't end up in the Ricotta.
Step 6: Add the Salt
Once the Ricotta reaches 185 F, turn off heat and sprinkle in the flaky salt. Give it one or two stirs.
Step 7: Add the Lemon Juice
Next, slowly drizzle in the lemon juice in a stream. Gently stir the mixture until curds start to form, for a minute or so. Let it sit for 5 minutes to allow curds to form.
Step 8: Ladle the Curds Into Strainer
Using a slotted spoon or a strainer type spoon, carefully ladle the curds into the cheesecloth covered strainer, leaving as much liquid behind as possible.
Step 9: Let the Ricotta Drain
Leave the Ricotta to drain for at least a half hour (for a very soft consistency) or place leave to drain in the fridge for a day or so if you want a hard Ricotta cheese. Experiment with it and find the thickness you like best! Personally, I like to drain it for an hour or so if spreading on bread or eating by itself, and longer if I use it in dishes like handmade ricotta gnocchi or baked ziti.
Step 10: Save the Whey!
The liquid left behind after draining the Ricotta is full of protein and health benefits! Save it in a jar and add to smoothies or even soups for extra flavor and protein. It's the same stuff that health food stores sell you in powder form as nutritional supplements, so no need to waste it :)
Step 11: Enjoy Your Freshly Made Ricotta!
Can you believe it?!? You just made Ricotta from scratch and it was super easy! If you'd like additional uses for it, there's plenty of recipes online, or go to my blog where I share two of my personal favorites: Handmade Ricotta Gnocchi with Shiitakes in Brown Butter and Sage Sauce or a Ricotta, Pumpkin Prosciutto Flatbread.