How to make whole milk ricotta

31 07 2012

I’ve spent the morning with MsG making ricotta.

Not that you need a whole morning. A spare 15 minutes will do.

It’s really that easy. More people should know how easy it is. So here’s how to make a basic whole milk ricotta*.

Per litre of milk, you need:

  • up to 50ml of cream (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 60ml of white vinegar

The yield is around 200-250g per litre of milk. I’ll usually do 2L, partly because that’s the size of the milk bottle, and partly because 500g is the perfect amount for this gorgeous baked ricotta recipe

  1. Set up a budget double boiler – put a smaller pot inside a larger pot which is filled with water, such that the handles of the smaller pot rest on the rim of the larger pot. Your milk goes into the smaller pot. Have the water level in the bigger pot roughly even with the milk level in the smaller pot. Or, if you’re fancy and have a double boiler, use that. You can heat the milk directly on the stove, but I find using a double-boiler means less danger of burning the milk, less need to stir and easier cleanup. Bonus.
  2. Add the cream, if using, and the salt to the milk. Stir gently to mix. You can add up to 1 tsp of salt per litre of milk, depending on the final flavour you’re after (I usually use 1/2 tsp per litre plus a pinch extra for luck).
  3. Pop a thermometer in the milk and heat on high. Occasionally, stir gently. This is the worst part because it feels like it takes forever to get the milk hot. Although it’s probably only 5 minutes or so.
  4. When the milk hits 85°C or thereabouts (anywhere above 75°C will work, but best not to go above 95°C), stir the milk quickly to create a whirlpool. Take out the spoon, and smoothly pour the vinegar across the pot. The movement of the liquid will distribute the vinegar through the milk – there’s no need to keep stirring, and from the moment you put the vinegar in the milk, you enter the OMG BE GENTLE WITH THE CURDS stage of ricotta making. So take the spoon out and don’t put it back in, ok?
  5. You should straight away start to see small curds (solid white chunks) forming. Don’t touch or stir the curds at this point. In fact, go away and do something else for 3 minutes, to give the curds a chance to form and solidify a little. Ricotta curds are very delicate, and stirring them will break them up, leaving you with ricotta slush.
  6. After 2-3 minutes, you’ll see curds floating on the top, with greenish-yellow clear liquid in between (whey). If you want, GENTLY move the curds away from the side of the pot with a spoon. The liquid underneath will probably still be milky rather than clear. This is ok.
  7. Gently scoop the curds out of the pot with a large spoon, and gently place them into a colander  or strainer (I line mine with muslin or a clean dishcloth, but that’s more for peace of mind than any real need), with a bowl underneath to catch the whey. As you take the curds out, any remaining vinegar will react with any remaining milk, and more curds will form in the pot. It’s like magic. Try not to agitate the liquid too much as you spoon out the curds, and try not to let the curds smash into each other as you spoon them in to the colander. Have I gone on about it enough yet?
  8. Be gentle or you’ll ruin the ricotta.
  9. Once you’ve spooned most of the curds out of the pot, you can (gently) pour the remaining curds and whey into the colander, making sure that the curds tumble into the colander gently (rather than falling and smashing into the other curds from a great height).
  10. Let it drain for a few minutes – not too long, or it will get grainy and dry. Then pop into a container and into the fridge, or make that delicious baked ricotta, or smear onto some fresh bread with a drizzle of good olive oil and some cracked pepper and enjoy.

Notes

This ricotta should last for a couple of weeks in the fridge, but it’s best on the day it’s made.

You can press it in a mold (ie any container with holes to let the liquid drain out, with a weight on top) to make paneer.

Any type of milk (low fat, normal, high fat, even UHT) will work. Any type of acid, too. White vinegar gives the most consistent results and flavour, but you can also use lemon or lime juice, buttermilk, wild whey – pretty much anything acidic. Just remember that the taste of the ricotta comes from the taste of the milk and the acid. But ask the internet for variations, because there are many out there!

If you don’t have a thermometer, 85°C is the point that milk simmers (not boils!) so you can use that as a guide.

And what to do with the whey? All sorts of things – a refreshing drink, instead of milk in baking (especially bread), lactofermentation, a facewash, feeding it to your dog or houseplants or compost… except that this time I was a slacker who tipped it down the sink.

Oh well. There’s always next time. Because there will be a next time.

* Yes, I know that actual ricotta is made from whey, and this isn’t technically ‘ricotta’. But it tastes as good. And is easier than trying to find a source of fresh whey. So just make it and enjoy it already!

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