I’d attempted to make homemade ricotta cheese before a few years ago and failed…twice.
I went to a lot of trouble to find the appropriately non-ultra pasteurized milk, as that seemed to be the key to getting it right. Still nothing…no curdle. BTW, I failed at mozzarella too.
A few years passed and I didn’t really think about it much more until homemade ricotta started popping up online and in magazines and it seemed so simple and unbelievable that I couldn’t get this to work for me.
“Why Aren’t You Making Ricotta yet?” was the headline on a small story in the latest issue of Bon Appetit.
Milk, cream, salt, lemon juice or vinegar – remember this or vinegar part. No talk of milk that has only been heated to a certain temp in its life time. No special equipment, not even a candy thermometer. Just boil, add lemon juice, strain. How hard is that?
With a weekend dinner with friends planned, I decided I was going to make a salad with quick pickled veggies – also from the new issue of BA – and top it with the fresh homemade cheese. Seemed appropriate for a spring time garden-planning dinner. Since the balcony of my apartment is heavily shaded, filtered early morning sun at best, my friends offered me space in their garden to grow some veggies this summer. Yay!
Anyway, I poured the milk and cream into a saucepan, added the salt and watched. I had prepared my double layer of cheesecloth in a fine sieve and place it over a bowl. The milk started to simmer and soon bubble. I had squeezed fresh lemon juice into a small ramekin. I was ready! When the bubbles were consistent, I removed the pan from the heat, added the lemon juice and stirred just as the directions said. Nothing.
You have got to be kidding me!
So to Google I turned and the research began…
First let me say something about lemons. The levels of acid in lemons can vary, sometimes greatly. I’ve known this for some time now. Noticed that sometimes I need to add vinegar to salad dressings or a lemon-garlic aioli when there isn’t quite enough tang, and I found out the lemon is the culprit.
Initially in some of the articles I found online, there was much talk about the type of milk. But the recipe in BA said nothing about the milk needing to come straight from the cow. Neither did several of the recipes I saw and the problem I was having seemed a bit rare. But then I saw it. One brief comment buried towards the bottom of the comment section on one of the blogs I found.
“Mine never curdles with lemon juice, but when I switched to vinegar it never fails.”
Hmmmmm…I had never used anything but lemon juice.
So it was back to square one. I dumped the failed mixture down the drain, thinking as it fell that I should have tried salvaging it with vinegar before I tossed it. Believe me I hate throwing food out….but it was too late.
So the process began again, this time with white distilled vinegar and voila! Curdle!
I poured it into the cloth-covered sieve and let it sit for a minute while I cleared some space on the top shelf of my fridge. About 30 minutes later, it may not have even been that long, I gave a little taste test. It was creamy with just the slightest hint of vinegar, not bad, but I was mildly bummed about that.
The cheese chilled for another 4 hours before we sat down for dinner. By then it appeared very dry, but it was extremely smooth and creamy on the tongue, much more so than it visually indicated. And all hints of vinegar were gone!
I made cheese! Now that I know the secret, I will make it again, and again, because it truly is as simple as they say!
One other note I noticed when I was online trying to troubleshoot my problem. Lots of folks pointed out this is not ricotta, but rather farmers cheese. Well, if Bon Appetit can call it ricotta, I feel like I can too…regardless of what you want to title it…feel free to call it yummy!
Bon Appetit, April 2014
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teas kosher salt
2 TB fresh lemon juice or distilled white vinegar
Bring milk, cream and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over med to med-high heat. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice (or vinegar); stir gently until mixture starts to curdle. Let stand 5 minutes.
Pour into a fine mesh sieve lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth set over a medium bowl. Chill until cheese is spreadable, at least 20 minutes and up to 12 hours. The longer it strains, the thicker it will be. If you want to thin it out a bit, add some of the whey back into the cheese. Cover and keep chilled for up to 3 days.