A good, fresh ricotta recipe should be part of every cook's repertoire. That being said, somehow, four or five years have passed since I last made fresh ricotta in my own kitchen. I used to make it often in my old apartment in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco. The gem of that particular apartment was a beautiful, white, four-burner, vintage Wedgewood stove placed centrally upon a floor made of black-and-white checked linoleum. No one with good conscience could have lived in that apartment and not put that stove to good use. Unfortunately the love affair was short-lived, she was afflicted with slow-gas leak, PG+E condemned her, and she would have to be replaced - unfortunately with something new and shiny, and without nearly as much character.
Ricotta is traditionally made from the whey left over from cheesemaking - from the whey of buffalo mozzarella, sheep's milk pecorino, etc. For those of us without access to cheesemaking by products, delicious fresh ricotta can also be made by using readily available cow's milk - or a blend of cow and goat milk. You will be surprised at how easy it is, and making riotta doesn't requite any special cheesemaking ingredients like, for example, rennett. Give it a go.
Ricotta tastes and smells like the milk it is made from, so use the best and freshest dairy you can find. You can control the consistency of your cheese by the length of time you drain it - for a drier ricotta drain for 15 minutes or more, for a ricotta that is a bit creamier, drain for less.
Homemade Ricotta Recipe
You can use fresh ricotta for a many things, last night I used it in a favorite thousand-layer lasagna I make by rolling out fresh pasta into parchment-thin sheets. I usually salt it if I am going to use it for savory applications - spreads, pasta stuffings, casseroles, etc. For sweet applications I might salt just a touch, and then taste as I go - you can drizzle it with honey and pair with berries - and it works wonderfully as a base for all kinds of desserts and baked goods.
1 gallon good-quality whole milk
1 quart good-quality buttermilk
Combine both milks into a large nonreactive saucepan over medium high heat, preferably a thick-bottomed pan if you have one. You will need to stir occasionally, scraping the pan bottom, to avoid scorching. Once the milk is hot, stop stirring. You will start to see curds rise and come to the surface. Run a spoon or spatula along the bottom of the pan occasionally to free up any stuck curds.
While the milk is heating, select a sieve or colander with a wide surface area. This will help your curds cook more quickly. Line the colander with a large piece of cheesecloth that has been folded numerous times - until you have about 5 or six layers. Place the lined colander over a large bowl or sink.
When the mixture reaches about 175F degrees, you will see the curds and whey seperate. The curds are the clumpy white mass. Now, remove the pan from heat, and gently begin to ladle curds into the prepared sieve. Pull up on the sides of the cheesecloth to drain off any extra liquid, but resist pressing on the curds. Gather the edges of the cloth, tie or fasten them into a knot and allow them to drain for another 15 minutes minimum. Move to an airtight container and refrigerate if you aren't going to use it immediately. Try to use or eat it within a few days, it really is best that way.
Makes about 4 cups.