I’m fairly certain that in some previous life I grew up on a farm, with chickens and dairy cows and those wide-trunked, top-heavy trees that flop over fences and into creeks. Or perhaps I just watched too much Little House as a kid.
We drove back from Kelowna yesterday, stopping in at D Dutchmen Dairy for our usual vanilla milkshake (like thick, cold cream – made with their own ice cream and a glug of whole milk from the Holsteins out back) and to stock up on dairy products to cram into the car for the last leg home.
The sign on the barn said that each Holstein produces 8500 litres of milk per year (plus one calf) – math isn’t my forte, but that calculates to over 160 litres of milk per week, per cow. (Never mind urban chickens – I want to keep a cow in my back yard.) I fantasized for the rest of the drive about what I might do with access to a steady supply of so much good milk/cream/butter and how I might smuggle a cow into our garage, and when I got home I made a batch of ricotta.
There are plenty of formulas for homemade ricotta out there – most are made with whole milk and lemon juice, some are enriched with cream, others use white wine vinegar as the acid. All you do is heat the milk, then stir in some lemon juice and it magically separates into curds and whey, which you then pour through a cheesecloth. Really, that’s it.
The milk/cream is heated to steaming – or 190F, if you have a thermometer in your drawer – squeeze in some lemon juice and let it sit for five or ten, then pour it through some cheesecloth. Isn’t it satisfying to use cheesecloth for actual cheese making?
It will drain in less than an hour, but the longer it sits, the more whey will drain out – which you can thriftily use it in bread dough, pancakes, muffins and the like.
If there’s so much whey that the colander is sitting in it, pour it out into another bowl. (You’ll wind up with about three cups of whey and one of ricotta.)
A friend told me this morning his mom used to make paneer in exactly the same way – she’d set a plate on top to weigh it down, which you can do once the ricotta is firm enough to gather up in the cheesecloth. The more whey you press out, the firmer and drier your cheese will be.
Ricotta is great in cheesecake, divine on pizza and tossed into pasta, spread on toast or crostini and drizzled with honey, and a soft, spreadable ball is perfect for a cheese board or brunch. Also? I find it immensely satisfying to have a bundle of fresh, homemade cheese wrapped in cheesecloth in the fridge. It’s almost like having my own cow. But I get to keep my lawn, too.
This formula makes about a cup – enough for a nice little ramekin for your breakfast table or to add to a recipe. Quantities are easily doubled – and the process is the same. I brought some to CBC this morning with a batch of cherry-rhubarb preserves – I simmered frozen rhubarb (gotta get rid of last year’s stash) and the last of a bag of frozen cherries on the stovetop with about a cup of sugar until it all got soft and jammy. Perfect with the smooth, creamy ricotta and a crusty, chewy baguette.
This method and ratio is very close to a lot of recipes out there, like this one and this one. I used 2 1/2 cups 2% milk and 1 1/2 cups half & half – so long as you don’t go below 2% you should be fine.
4 cups whole milk, or some 2% and some heavy cream or half & half
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
the juice of a juicy lemon (3 Tbsp.)
In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the milk (and cream, if you’re using it) and salt over medium-high heat until it’s steaming – if you have a thermometer, it should read 190F. Stir it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom.
Remove the pot from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice, only stirring a couple times. Let it sit undisturbed for 5-10 minutes.
Line a colander or sieve with a double thickness of cheesecloth and set it in a large bowl; pour in the curds and whey. (If the whey is too deep and the colander is sitting in it, you can pour it off into another bowl.) Let the ricotta sit for an hour or so – the longer it drains, the drier it will be. Place a plate on top of it if you want to press out as much whey as possible.
Makes about 1 cup of ricotta.