homemade ricotta

Hello from Daegu, from Korea. After a few days of being charmed by Seoul, I caught a train further south, but it was hard to do. The train part was easy but leaving Seoul not so much. That metropolis fed and watered me well (green tea cake and grapefruit makgeolli I'm talking about you), kept me entertained, and filled my desires for good art, stationary, books, and street food. In other words, it has me under its spell and I'm sure I'll be back soon. Until then, I'm off to explore temples, coastlines and their seafood, a green tea plantation, and a salt farm. So it isn't just Seoul that has me charmed, but Korea as a whole. 

I'll share stories soon, but in the meantime let's go back to my kitchen in Munich and talk about homemade fresh cheese. Yes, I just wrote homemade and cheese in the same sentence. 

In the wintertime, I'm not one to fuss over ricotta, but come summertime I like to always have some around. Ricotta just belongs to summer. From bright yellow zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta, to a bowl of ricotta splattered with mixed berries and honey, and from crowning countless crostini to filling tarts and topping salads, it goes well with most foods I tend to eat in hot temperatures.

But I broke my habit of paying more attention to ricotta in summer as opposed to winter when I first learned how to make it at home. It was two winters ago and I was so hooked that I packed some cheese cloth with me when I went to visit Sweden in March. And since I had it along, of course I made fresh ricotta to spread on the best Swedish sourdough and to smear with olive oil and fresh herbs. 

Ricotta translates into English from Italian as "re-cooked" and is called this as it is traditionally made with whey leftover from making cheese, from pecorino to mozzarella. This means that homemade ricotta is slightly different as it uses milk or cream that is only cooked once. So the "ri" in ricotta might not be completely accurate when you make it at home, but it is so delicious who would bother to care? And it is remarkably easy to boot. All you need is milk (any milk), some splashes of lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar, a pinch of salt and a cheese cloth. You probably don't even need to go to the grocery store in order to make fresh cheese at home and how impressive is that? 

Since milk is the primary ingredient, different types of milk with yield different tasting ricotta. Goat or cow's milk, ultra pasteurized or raw. you can use any milk you wish and will have a ricotta that clearly tastes of that choice. You can also use some cream in addition to your milk (the ration of 3:1 for milk to cream seems popular). Really, go for whatever you like as long as you respect the importance of fat and go for full fat milk.

Same goes with the next important ingredient: an acid of sorts. Distilled white vinegar will leave no taste, unlike lemon and lime. I normally go for lemon as I already have this sour fruit around and have never complained of something tasting like lemon.

The sweet and small Italian figs have started to make a steady appearance at markets in Munich. Before flying to Seoul, I took full advantage of this and ate as many figs as I could afford to buy. Few things beat a savoury tartine of ricotta with herbs and exceptionally good olive oil, but one of those few things is a thin slice of baguette, lightly toasted, with a heap of ricotta, sweet slices of fresh figs and honey drizzled on top (lavender honey is especially delightful). If it is fig season where you live, hop to it and make some ricotta. Just adjust the recipe below to how much you need; you can half it for just a small batch and easily double it or triple it as well. 

Homemade Ricotta

adapted from the Huffington Post

makes about 1 cup 


4 cups (1 liter) organic whole milk
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

a large cheese cloth 

Pour the milk into a large non-reactive pot (use either ceramic or stainless steel and avoid aluminum), add the salt and then place on the stove over medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching and continue to heat until the milk is just about to boil. If you have a thermometer, the milk should be about 180 F - 190 C (82 C - 88C). If you don't have a thermometer, heat until it simmers and the sides froth.

Remove the pot from the heat and add the lemon juice. Gently stir it and then leave it undisturbed for five minutes. You should see the milk curdle right away.

Line a medium sized strainer with a couple of layers of cheese cloth and place over a large bowl. Carefully pour the milk into the cheese cloth. If you have somewhere to hang the cloth (such as on the knob of a kitchen cupboard), pick up the sides of the cheese cloth and tie it with a string. Hang the cloth over a bowl. If not, just leave the cloth as is in the strainer and above a bowl to catch the whey.

Leave the ricotta to drain for about 1 hour. The longer the ricotta drainers, the dryer it will be. I like my ricotta drained for about an hour, but if you fancy drier ricotta then simply double the draining time.

If you aren't using the ricotta right away, transfer it to a container with a lid and store in the fridge, on the top shelf, for a couple of days.

Use the leftover whey for smoothies. 


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