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It's a breeze: ricotta cheese!

It's a breeze: ricotta cheese!

Since I love cooking and baking so much, I do have a pretty well-stocked pantry, but there are still times when I’m lacking a key ingredient to a recipe. If I’m meal planning for the week, then this is not a problem, it just gets added to the shopping list. But there are times when I’m a little less organized and I realize a little late that I’m missing something. I am sure I’m not alone here!

Recently my problem was with a lasagna recipe. I had everything I needed except ricotta cheese. When this happens, I usually turn to the Internet to find out how to substitute for the missing ingredient. Apparently, cottage cheese can be substituted for ricotta, but that didn’t help as I didn’t have that either! However, I did stumble on a recipe to make my own ricotta cheese. It claimed to take around an hour and required only 3 ingredients. I had never made cheese before, but this looked pretty simple and it would solve my lasagna problem so I gave it a go.

What you need

  • ½ gallon whole milk

  • ½ teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 2 tablespoons of cool water or 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt (salt without iodine)

You will also need cheesecloth or coffee filters to strain the ricotta curds and a thermometer.

What to do

  • Add the milk and citric acid solution or vinegar to a large saucepan. Mix together.

  • Slowly heat the mixture over a low-medium heat until it reaches between 185°F/85°C and 195°F/90°C. Gently stir the mixture from time to time to stop the milk scorching.

  • Once the curds and whey have separated, and the whey is clear not cloudy, turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes.

  • Line a colander or large sieve with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and spoon the curds into it.

  • Mix the salt into the ricotta curds then leave the ricotta to drain for between 30 and 60 minutes depending on how firm you want it.

How much time?

Overall it took me about an hour to make the ricotta cheese, and most of this time was hands-off as the milk heated, or the ricotta curds drained.

Here’s a breakdown of the time it took me:

  • Heating the milk to 185°F/85°C: 20 minutes

  • Letting the curds/whey sit: 10 minutes

  • Draining the curds: 30 minutes.

Cost?

Using a ½ gallon of milk, I made 10.75 ounces / 305 g of ricotta cheese. This cost me $1.81 to make which is about $0.17 per ounce.

The cheapest whole milk ricotta cheese that I could find to buy was $4.99 for 15 ounces, which is $0.33 per ounce.

Is it worth it?

Ricotta cheese is totally worth making. Although it takes about an hour, most of that time is hands off so it is quick to make. Plus, it is so much tastier and cheaper than the ricotta cheese from the supermarket. So, it is easy to give ricotta cheese a 5-pig rating.

If you are interested in getting into cheese-making, I think that ricotta cheese is a great place to start. I know that it’s given me more confidence to try other cheeses, especially the pricier ones…mozzarella, I’m talking about you!

Anything else I should know?

Here are a few tips to help you make great ricotta cheese

  • I recommend going low and slow when you heat the milk. Use a low heat so the milk doesn’t scorch or boil over, and it doesn’t add too much to the cooking time.

  • Using a low heat also means that you don’t have to stir it too often. Stir just enough to keep the milk from scorching and to equalize the heat through the milk but be gentle as you don’t want to break up the ricotta curds as they are forming.

  • When transferring the curds from the saucepan to the colander for draining, use a slotted spoon. This makes it much easier and quicker. Resist the temptation to pour the curds and whey into the colander/sieve as this will slow down the draining time for the ricotta.

What do I do with the leftover whey?

Here are a few suggestions on what to do with the whey. If you’re not ready to use the whey immediately, then it can be frozen:

 No-Knead Bread made with leftover whey

No-Knead Bread made with leftover whey

  • Whey is full of protein, so you could add it to your smoothie, and save some money if you are already buying protein whey powder!

  • Add it to soups or stocks.

  • Water your plants.

  • Alternatively, you can use it next time you make bread. I replaced half of the water in my No-Knead Bread recipe with whey and it was delicious!

Can I freeze ricotta cheese?

You can freeze ricotta cheese, but it does change the consistency. Once thawed it will be more watery, even after draining it. It is usually better to make the dish that contains the ricotta cheese and freeze that.

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