Monday, March 5, 2012

Homemade Ricotta

Making your own cheese is hard. It takes a lot of patience, knowledge, and equipment to get a quality result in the end. This is especially true with hard cheeses, which is why I never took up the hobby of making cheese in the first place. Going to the store and picking up a half pound of a quality hard cheese just makes more economic sense to me. There is an exception to this rule though. Ricotta is an exceptionally easy cheese to make with normal household ingredients and equipment. All it requires is some dairy, a little acid, some heat, and a bit of cheesecloth. It doesn't even take that much time to make either. In fact this only required about ten minutes of "active" time for me to make, and about an hour overall.

You can use the ricotta however you wish once it is done, but you must use it within four days. The homemade stuff isn't as safe as what you get in the supermarket and it happens to be an excellent place for questionable bacterium to grow. For bibliographic purposes I have to note that I got this recipe from Ina Garten on the Food Network's website, and that I got the cinnamon and honey ricotta idea (the picture above) from Gourmet magazine on their affiliate's website Epicurious.com.
The straining setup. (The recipe is doubled here.)
Homemade Ricotta:
1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1/2 quart (2 cups) heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Cheesecloth, 4 to 6 square yards

1. Mix the milk, cream, and salt together in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.
2. Bring the dairy mixture up to 190F while stirring every 5 to 10 minutes. This could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on your cooking vessel. (Do not be tempted to use a high heat as this will scorch the dairy!)
3. When the milk hits 190F remove the pot form the heat and add the vinegar. Gently stir the mixture around the pot twice and then let it sit for 5 minutes to form curds.
4. While the mixture sits place a wire rack on top of a large bowl. Place 2 to 4 layers of cheesecloth in a colander and dampen it, then place the lined colander on top of the wire rack and bowl.
5. After the 5 minutes are up gently pour the cheese curds into the colander and let this sit for 5 minutes.
6. Gather the cheesecloth from the sides and then tie the bunched cheesecloth up with butcher string. Tie another knot so that the length of the string will suspend the curds over your sink without touching. (See below.)  Let this drain over the sink for 40 minutes. Test the ricotta by gently mixing it and see if you like the texture. Let the ricotta dry more until you get your desired texture.
7 . Remove the ricotta from the cheesecloth and use right away, or store in an air tight container.
I call this one "Hanging Cheese." (This is the doubled recipe.)

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