Up until recently I haven’t made too much with ricotta cheese. I made the occasional lasagna or stumbled across and saved a recipe for some kind of dessert type thing with ricotta, but overall it wasn’t really a cheese that was on my radar. Then the other day a friend of mine started raving over lemon ricotta pancakes. That same afternoon another friend convinced me to add ricotta cheese to a small veggie pizza from my local pizza place. Suddenly ricotta was the cheese du jour in my life!
And to top all of that off, that very evening I saw an article on Serious Eats for homemade microwave ricotta.
I took it as a sign from the universe that I was meant to make ricotta and use it in a bunch of recipes.
First of all, I tried the microwave recipe – and it worked as described, but seemed unnecessarily clumsy. Since every microwave heats differently, I wasn’t comfortable just sticking a measuring cup full of milk in for 5 mins. Cleaning burned milk out of the bottom of the microwave wasn’t really on my game plan for the weekend. So I started out with 3 mins and then added increments of 1 min at a time until my instant read thermometer showed about 175 deg. It took a little over 6 mins. (Mind you the constant stopping, opening the door, & checking the temperature probably lengthened the time some).
Next I decided to see how the stovetop method worked. Honestly I found it easier and less fussy than the microwave method. I just don’t get what’s so hard about setting milk to simmer on the stove and watching it for a few minutes to make sure it doesn’t bubble over.
It took less than 10 mins to bring a gallon of milk up to 178 deg in a saucepan over medium heat. I set the heat, gave it an occasional stir, and checked the temp when I saw small bubbles forming around the edges of the pan.
Once it hit temperature, I turned off the heat and immediately added 1 tbsp kosher salt and 1/3 cup of plain white vinegar. I gave it a vigorous stir and then let it sit for about 10 mins – until it looked like this:
You can see the yellowish liquid whey has risen to the top and the more solid creamy white curds are sinking to the bottom of the pan. At this point I decided it was ready to strain.
I lined a plastic colander with coffee filters (I used 4 of them, overlapping) and drained it into the sink. (Next time I’m going to drain the whey into a pan or bowl so I can save it and use it elsewhere.) After about 5 mins, it looked like this:
At this stage it was creamy and soft, but not runny. And really really delicious! The ricotta was slightly sweet, milky tasting, and had a soft creamy texture.
Two things that I wanted to do as part of this experiment were – One: compare it to commercially available ricotta and Two: see if it really is cost effective to make my own.
Here you can see side by side a bowl of a popular brand of whole milk (full fat) ricotta and a bowl of the homemade version made with whole milk:
I’m pretty sure you can tell which is which. The store-bought ricotta looked very smooth and had a somewhat gelatinous texture (it actually wobbled slightly as I spooned it into the bowl). It looks smooth but on closer inspection, it’s slightly grainy and you can feel the grains against your tongue when you taste it. It’s got a milky taste, but not as sweet or creamy feeling as the homemade. Even though the homemade looks more “lumpy”, those curds break apart and become soft and creamy in your mouth. There’s not even a hint of graininess in the homemade.
As for cost effectiveness: I bought 1.5 gallons of organic milk at Costco for $7.99 and used a gallon of it to make 2.4 lbs of ricotta. Dividing out the cost for the one gallon, I get $5.32 for my batch of ricotta. By comparison, the store-bought ricotta was $2.25 for a 1 lb container, so doing the math, 2.4 lbs would cost around $5.40. Nearly identical. Had I used non-organic milk, a gallon would have cost me $2.99 – a significant savings. On the other hand, if I didn’t have access to Costco, a gallon of organic milk at the grocery store would cost me $7.99, so it would cost me nearly half again as much to make my own ricotta.
It’s absolutely well worth the cost to me, since it breaks even using the Costco brand milk. But even if I had to pay the higher cost for the organic milk, I would still make my own because the quality difference is so dramatic.
Now after these experiments, I have nearly 6 lbs of ricotta at home – so I guess I’m going to have to get cracking on some recipes using it all! (I’m also going to experiment with freezing it to see how well it’ll hold it’s texture and how long it’ll last.)
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
In a large saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until it reaches somewhere between 170-180 deg F. The number doesn’t have to be exact, but just within that range. If you boil the milk, it won’t separate out as well later.
Once the milk reaches the proper temperature, turn off the heat and add the salt and vinegar and give it a good stir.
Let the mixture sit for 10-15 mins. When you see a layer of yellow liquid whey on top and the white curds on the bottom, it’s time to strain.
Pour the mixture into a sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters. Strain for anywhere from 5 mins to 20 mins, depending on how creamy you want the cheese. The longer you strain, the more solid your ricotta will be.
(You can strain directly into the sink, or you can reserve the whey for use in other recipes!)
Refrigerate your ricotta to keep it for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.