Making homemade ricotta cheese is much simpler than you might think. As long as you have half a gallon of whole milk, an acid of some sort and half an hour of time, you will be able to make homemade ricotta cheese!
Making homemade ricotta is a great introduction to making cheese at home. It shows you the basics of curdling dairy into curds and whey.
After your ricotta is finished, you can stick it in the fridge for up to two weeks, but it will be eaten soon before then.
Spread it over toast and cover it in lemon curd or plum jam, or bake it in lasagna or ziti. It even works well when stuffing it into a chicken breast with spinach before baking!
The possibilities with homemade ricotta are endless, whether you like it savory or sweet.
How to Make Homemade Ricotta Cheese
First, you will want to prep your cooking area, since when you begin your cheesemaking, things start moving pretty fast.
Use a large bowl (I use a dutch oven) with a strainer in it and then line the strainer with a dampened cheesecloth.
Pour your milk into the large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, until the milk reaches between 185 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit, or until small bubbles begin to form at the sides of the bowl.
When your milk reaches temperature, add in your acid and salt. Your acid can either be lemon juice or vinegar. I prefer to use lemon juice, but you can use vinegar if that’s what you have on hand. Use about a 1/4 of a cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice for every half-gallon of milk that you are using.
When using lemons, use regular lemons, not Meyer lemons, as Meyer lemons have less acidity than regular run-of-the-mill lemons.
After adding your lemon juice to the milk, turn down the heat to medium-low and stir for about 2 minutes. This will help the milk separate into the curds and whey.
When you add the lemon juice to the hot milk, it should immediately (or almost immediately) separate into curds and whey.
You should see the ricotta forming before your very eyes!
Next, drain your freshly made homemade ricotta in your cheesecloth. Let the ricotta drain for 3 minutes for creamy ricotta and up to 20 minutes for drier ricotta.
What Type of Milk Should I Use?
You can use whole milk or cream. Anything that has a high percentage of milk fat. The most important part of making homemade ricotta cheese is to use unpasteurized milk. When making homemade ricotta cheese, you are encouraging curdling. Pasteurized milk is designed to not curdle. You will have a very difficult time breaking the milk into its curds and whey, even with lemon juice or vinegar.
I used a raw, cream top, whole milk from RAW FARM. This is the first time I’ve ever had a reason to purchase raw milk so I tasted it before dumping it straight into the stock pot. You might be surprised to learn that it tastes just like regular pasteurized milk but a bit more earthy.
This might be your first time using an unpasteurized dairy product. While there is a lot of literature out there about the difference between raw and pasteurized milk products and which one you should consume, just know this: pasteurization heats the dairy to between 145 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria. While the goal is to kill harmful bacteria, the pasteurization process also kills nutritious bacteria and minerals in the milk. As long as the raw milk you are drinking is fresh and from healthy cows, you will likely not get sick. Just how you will likely not get sick when drinking milk before the expiration date that is from a reputable store.
How Much Ricotta will You Make?
After you are finished making the cheese and it is draining, you will notice that you have about 2 full cups of ricotta cheese made.
Remember, this is a simplified version of making homemade ricotta for making as much ricotta cheese as you need for whatever recipe you are making, generally for that day. However, the cheese will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
After you have stored your cheese, you will look at your saucepan and notice that you have a yellowish-colored liquid left. This is the whey. So, you might ask, “What should I do with it?”
There are a couple of options for whey. You can drink the whey, use it in smoothies, or if you don’t prefer to drink it, you can always feed it to your plants! You can find an extensive list of ways to use whey here.