No, it's not ice cream in the picture, although it does look like a delicious cup of vanilla ice cream. I couldn't think of how to photograph this wonderful cheese so I grabbed a cup and a plate and this is what we got! :-D
Ricotta cheese is a soft Italian cheese that is similar to cottage cheese. Ricotta literally means "recooked" and that is exactly how you make this fabulous cheese that can be used in a variety of ways, like in scrambled eggs or in stuffed pasta or shoot why not just eat a spoonful!
If you've begun making cheese at home, one thing you'll find is that you'll have a lot of whey leftover from the cheese making process. For every gallon of milk used to make cheese, you'll have nearly a gallon of whey. I was very surprised to find how much whey was left over when I first started making cheese. As a rule of thumb I try to avoid throwing things a way and although I use whey for soaking grains and beans, all in all, I don't use tons of whey. It seemed like such a shame to throw it all away. (and no I haven't taken drinking it play yet, which some people do.) Then I found the recipe for how to make homemade ricotta cheese on Fankhauser's Cheese Page. Turns out ricotta is made from re-cooking your leftover whey. Sweet! Not only did I get to use my whey, but for one of my favorite types of cheeses too!
All in all, ricotta is fairly easy to make, but it is a bit time consuming. It takes a good portion of the day to do, but at least most of the time, it's a hands off process. You can go about other activities while the curds first cook and then while you separate them from the whey.
David Fankhauser does an excellent job on his website to show how to make ricotta, so by all means check out his sight. Some of my steps are a bit different and reflect how I've had success.
One note, when you make ricotta you can use any amount of whey, although I would use at least a gallons worth. Just make sure that your pot can hold close to twice the whey that you use. or that leaves you with 5" - 6" of space from the top. So if you use 1 gallon of whey, try and make sure you use a 2 gallon or something close to that. While you heat the whey it's going to boil and foam, if your pot is too small, (been there done that!) you'll end up with a huge mess all over you stove. Not so fun!
What You'll Need:
- 1+ gallon of whey - for every gallon of whey you'll get about 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
- Thermometer - an instant read one would be handy, but any thermometer that can read up to 203 degrees will do
- Large, heavy bottomed pot with a lid - pot should be large enough that the whey will be 5"-6" away from the top or close to twice the size as the amount of whey you use
- Non-terry cloth dish towel that has been sanitized by boiling it in a pot of water for 10 minutes
- Large stirring spoon
- Large strainer
- Soup ladle
1. Sanitize your cooking pot by filling it with and inch or two of water and with the lid on, boil the water for 10 minutes. Dump water afterwords.
2. Pour your whey into the pot and cover with lid and allow to sit on the stove or counter for 12 -24 hours so it can develop the right acidity.
Note: Make sure there is no cheese particles in your whey. You may have to strain it through a fine mess strainer or a towel before it can be used for making ricotta. If you leave any small bits of cheese, they'll become very hard during the process of making the ricotta and will be an unpleasant texture in your end product.
3. The next morning heat your whey to 180°F or 82°C, stirring constantly so nothing burns or sticks to the bottom of the pot. You should begin seeing a white foam on top.
4. Continue heating your whey and stirring continuously until it gets to 203°F or 95°C. This is where an instant read thermometer can be handy. The steam from the whey is very hot, so be careful to not burn yourself. The foam will continue to build up and if you aren't careful and the whey gets too hot too quickly it will end up boiling and the froth can easily boil over. That's why I like to use a pot that leaves me with at least 5"-6" of extra space above the whey.
5. Once you've reached 203°F or 95°C, remove the pot from the heat and cover it with a lid. Allow whey to cool until you can comfortable touch it. This will takes several hours at the minimum. I normally let the whey sit for most of the day. Don't disturb the cooked whey, it's during this time you'll see the curds start to separate away from the whey. The curds will look like clouds floating in a light yellowish green liquid.
The above picture is the curds right after they've been cooked. As they cool they'll start to come together and separate more from the whey like in the picture below.
6. Once whey has cooled, line your strainer with your non-terry dish towel and place over the drain in the sink. (You can save the whey and feed it to your chickens and pigs, I don't have either, so I pitch it.) Using your soup ladle, very carefully remove as much of the yellowish, green whey as possible, pouring it through you lined strainer. The ricotta curds are extremely fine and the more whey you can remove before disturbing the curds the more quickly you'll get to your end product.
7. After removing as much whey as possible with your ladle, then scoop the curds into the strainer and allow the rest of the whey to run out. If you've checked out David Fankhauser site on how to make ricotta, you'll notice he uses a fine strainer to scoop out his curds from the whey. My curds are always to fine to be able to do that, so I use the ladle instead.
8. Allow whey to strain out of curds, this can and often does take several hours to happen. In the picture below I believe I left my curds to strain for around 3 hours. If it's getting late or you're running out of time, you can hang the towel with the curds in it in the fridge overnight to allow the rest of the whey to drain out. You'll know it's done when you have a nice thick, but smooth ricotta.
9. Store in the fridge for up to a week (at least that's about as long as I've left it) or freeze. Ricotta freezes very well, but keep it in an air tight container. The fragile flavor of the cheese will take on other flavors that are in your freezer.