Whole-milk ricotta is the easiest fresh cheese to make at home, requiring fairly standard kitchen equipment and a minimum of steps. It doesn’t take very long and produces a very tasty and versatile product which we think tastes much better than the ricotta that’s readily available in stores. By some definitions, whole-milk ricotta is not really a cheese (because there’s no culture or rennet), and it’s technically not true ricotta (which is made from reheating whey of hard cheese but produces miniscule quantities of curd). However, we consider the simple process and tasty results to be a good first step into home cheese-making.
This recipe takes roughly an hour start-to-finish for a gallon of milk, but much of that time requires very little attention (just an occasional stir as the milk heats). Halving or quartering the recipe will speed things up a bit, because less milk will come up to temperature faster. This recipe is based on the one in Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making book (which is available at the local library).
1 gallon goat milk
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Optional: 3 Tbl butter (melted)
Reliable, calibrated thermometer
Colander & a large bowl or pan
1) Heat milk to 195ºF in a pan on direct heat (below left), stirring now and then; use medium-low to medium heat (on our GE stove, I use a setting of 4 on a scale of 10). I like to set a timer to remind me to stir on occasion. At first, I’ll stir about once every 8-10 minutes, but reduce the intervals between checking/stirring as the milk approaches 195ºF
.2) When the milk is nearing 195ºF, there are a few other things to prepare:
- Find a piece of cheesecloth that will fit the colander. Sterilize the cheesecloth by putting it in a saucepan, covering with water, bringing to a full boil, and letting it sit for a few minutes. (If rinsed after use, sent through the laundry, and sterilized in this way before use, a piece of cheesecloth can be used multiple times.)
- Put the colander over a large bowl or a pan (to collect the whey) and line the colander with the cheesecloth.
- If you want to use the optional butter &/or herbs, prepare these ingredients. The Ricki Carroll recipe calls for butter, which isn’t really necessary if making plain ricotta, but it does act as an excellent vehicle for herbs. Minced garlic & sage are my favorite additions. I usually start melting the butter about the time the milk reaches 195º. When the butter has melted, add the garlic &/or herbs, let simmer for a few moments, then remove from the heat until needed.
3) When the milk reaches 195ºF, turn the heat off, drizzle the vinegar into the milk, and stir gently & briefly until just mixed, then let sit. (I prefer to keep stirring to a minimum from this point on, because stirring will break up the curds, and I like nice, large clumps.) Curds should begin to separate out within a couple of minutes (above right). You want the whey to be fairly clear; it will be a bit yellow in color, but if it is really cloudy/milky, that means the curdling isn’t done. We find that spring milk typically curdles more completely & easily than fall milk, but a bit of extra heat and/or a bit of extra vinegar are often necessary to nudge the curdling to completion. Try not to overdo either, though, as too much vinegar can flavor the cheese, and too much heat can give it a cooked flavor. If the whey is still fairly cloudy/milky in appearance, heat to 200-205ºF. If needed, add a splash of extra vinegar. Be patient as well, it can take a few minutes for the curdling to finish.
4) Spoon and/or pour the curds into the colander. Gather up the cheesecloth and hang/let drip for about a minute. (This time can be adjusted depending on your preference for moister or drier cheese.) Transfer to a bowl (or storage container) and mix in the baking soda and salt to taste, as well as the butter/herb mixture, if using.
Ricotta can be used with just about anything. We use ricotta in calzones, on pizza, with any kind of pasta sauce, in egg dishes (scrambled, frittata, quiche, souffle), in enchiladas, on sandwiches, with rice dishes, on soups, and more. It’s also good as a simple desert with a bit of honey drizzled on it along with some raisins and/or toasted nuts. Ricotta cheesecake is also delightful, though a bit more effort.
If you make more than you can eat, we’ve found that this ricotta freezes very well. Simply pack it into small containers, label a date, and enjoy months later (this is true of chevre as well). By fall we start freezing more and more fresh cheese before we stop milking, to help get us through the winter. It’s a good trick for CSA members to try as well, if you’re unsure about using a whole batch at once.