Making your own ricotta

Cooked up on September 18, 2012 Filed under: DIY, fall, frugal, fun, gluten free, six ingredients or less
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It all started with about a half gallon of 1 percent organic milk. It expired the day we got back from vacation.

Generally Dave and I tend to still drink milk if it passes the smell test. But this time there was a lot of milk left, and there was no way we’d finish it before it went bad.

So we decided to use it! We made ricotta! And it is an amazing success. I am so excited!  It’s not even that hard. You just need to plan a time to make it where you can leave it unattended for 2-3 hours.

This is my first time ever making any cheese. I think it’s one of our best DIYs yet.

Here’s what you need:

  • Approximately 1/2 gallon of milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons white vinegar

Additional slightly abnormal supplies:

  • Cheesecloth – I recommend at least one full package.
  • A thermometer – either a candy thermometer or a meat thermometer is fine – just get one that you can clip to the side of a pan. And if you don’t have one, invest! They are less than $5 and will do wonders for your meat-cooking skills.

This recipe makes about 2 cups of cheese, if it were packed.

In a Dutch oven or large pot, pour in the cold milk and stir in the salt. Attach a thermometer to the side of the pan.

Slowly heat on medium or medium high, stirring every few minutes to prevent burning on the bottom – I took less than five minutes between stirs and still ended up with a little brownage on the bottom. It didn’t change the cheese, but it wasn’t fun to clean off.

Slowly heat and stir the milk until it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. When it does, remove from the heat immediately. Stir in the vinegar for about a minute and then cover the pan with a clean dish cloth.

Then – walk away. I walked away for 2.5 hours.

When you come back, line a colander or fine mesh strainer with the cheesecloth – you should cover as much of the colander as you can, but also use as many layers of cheese cloth as possible. Slowly ladle the liquid and curds into the colander. Allow the liquid to drain off.

You may have to work in batches, depending on the size of your colander. I worked in three batches and after allowing the curds to drain, used the cheesecloth to pick up the curds, make the cheesecloth into a little bag and then gently squeeze it to get a little bit more water out. Don’t worry about making it look like feta, though – ricotta should be a little moist.

Transfer to an airtight container and store in your fridge for a few days. I do not think mine will be around long enough to see it go bad!

Here is the tutorial I used for our ricotta adventure. I used organic milk – I do not know how using regular milk would turn out. Using a milk with higher fat content will yield more curds because, well, curds are mostly fat. Hooray! :)

And here’s a question you’re probably all thinking – is it a good deal? Is it worth the time? Here’s the breakdown:

Price: I used organic milk for this, which is about $5/gallon (but I used half a gallon, so the true cost to me was $2.50). This made enough ricotta to fill a traditional container you might see at the store (approximately 2 cups). Non-organic ricotta costs a little over $2. I think it’s safe to assume that organic will be a bit more expensive. My guess is that the price variation between making it at home or using the store stuff is negligible – I am not going to split hairs over 20 cents.

Work: This was not difficult to make in the least.

Time: It takes a long time, but almost all of it is inactive. I did the boiling part while Dave cooked some fresh pasta sauce for dinner one night, and we got done at about the same time. I left the curds and liquid to rest for 2.5 hours while we ate dinner, watched TV, etc. I drained it just before bed – this took 10-15 minutes.

Is it worth it?: I would say that in our household, we purchase ricotta maybe once every two months - there are many other cheeses we use more of and usually I only buy it when I am planning a specific recipe that uses it. For that frequently, I say it is totally worth it. It tastes fresh and it’s fun to make! I can’t believe how easy it was.

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