by Kelly Dumke
Picture a blank canvas, snowy white and prepped for an artist. Now picture the edible version: a pillow of fresh, creamy ricotta, ready and waiting for a cook’s flavor palate. Sweet or savory, center stage or side dish, this versatile fresh cheese is easy to make at home.
Creating the Canvas – The Ricotta Technique
Ricotta, which means ‘recooked’, is made by simmering the leftover ingredients from the cheese-making process (such as mozzarella). However, the same soft, rich texture can be achieved using four everyday ingredients: milk, cream, lemon juice, and salt.
The ricotta-making technique is based on simple science. The combination of whole milk and cream, acid (such as lemon juice), and heat causes the proteins in milk to separate into curds and whey. Beyond part of the famed poetic verse of Little Miss Muffet, curds and whey are the thick, buttery solids (curds) and thin, milky liquid (whey) that separate during the cheese-making process.
Preparing the Palate – The Ricotta Canvas
With the help of cheesecloth and a mesh sieve or colander, the simple science of separating curds and whey creates this creamy fresh cheese. Once separated, the cloud-like curd will form the basic ricotta, but the consistency and flavor profile and can be varied. Depending the time the cheese is allowed to strain, the consistency can remain smooth and moist for spreading or pleasantly dry for stuffing pasta.
With the texture defined and a slightly sweet but amendable taste, the cheese is open to any type of cuisine. From savory combinations with spinach and garlic in Greek spanakopita, to comforting classics like warm lasagna, to sweet beginnings (and endings) with ricotta pancakes or cheesecakes, the possibilities are endless to design this creamy culinary canvas.
Makes 2 cups
4 cups (1/2 gallon) whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 pieces of cheesecloth (to line the strainer)
1. In a large soup pot, bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally so avoid scalding (or burning) the milk.
2. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the lemon juice. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring often. During this time, the curds and whey will begin separate.
3. While the milk simmers, prepare the strainer. Place a mesh sieve or colander over a large bowl. Line with three layers of cheesecloth, making sure to leave room for liquid to drain.
4. After the 20 minutes, turn off the heat and pour the milk mixture over the cheesecloth. Refrigerate and strain. For softer, creamier ricotta, strain about 20-30 minutes. For dryer, firmer ricotta, strain about 1 hour. Once the cheese has reached the desired consistency, place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Use within 4 days.
Kelly Dumke is a second year nutrition communication student and aspiring chef at heart. Seasonal Sprouts is a column dedicated to exploring new and local ingredients, testing new recipes, and highlighting the culinary side of Friedman!