The homemade version is entirely different and far more delicious than its store-bought counterpart. You will probably eat most of this batch straight out of the container.
An unusual gift showed up on my doorstep this week – a gallon of unpasteurized milk from a local dairy. A friend had purchased several jugs and wondered if I could use one of them. “Yes!” I said, delighted at the chance to get my hands on some unpasteurized milk for a change and try my hand at cheese-making.
There was a that I’d been eyeing in Fine Cooking magazine for several months, and that’s how I decided to use the milk – after taking quite a few sips of the deliciously creamy milk with fat pooling on the surface. “This is how milk should taste,” my husband said after sampling it.
Making ricotta is surprisingly easy, and of course it is far more delicious than any storebought versions. All you need in terms of equipment is a candy thermometer and some cheesecloth.
1 gallon whole milk (it doesn’t have to be raw, but many cheesemakers prefer this because of the deeper flavor and increased bacteria)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
½ cup fresh strained lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
Line a colander with 3 to 4 layers of damp cheesecloth, and set it in a large bowl or over the sink.
Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a heavy-duty 7- to 8-quart pot. Put the milk and cream into the pot and slowly warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula, until it reaches 185 F. Be patient; this takes a while.
Remove from heat, stir in salt, and then slowly pour lemon juice over the surface. Stir for another 1 to 2 minutes to encourage curd formation.
Gentle ladle curds into the prepared colander. Fold over the ends of the cheesecloth to cover loosely and let sit. Drain until it reaches your desired consistency, 30 minutes for a soft ricotta and up to 24 hours for a firm, dry, dense ricotta. Refrigerate if draining for more than 2 hours. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
Now I have a lovely container of medium-firm ricotta in the fridge that I meant to use for a special recipe, but instead I’m eating by the spoonful or spreading on flatbread whenever I get hungry. It’s irresistible, with a soft yet slightly chewy texture and very gentle taste. You can spread ricotta on bread and top with fruit compote or jam, capers and olive oil, tomatoes and rosemary, prosciutto and arugula, fresh figs, walnuts and honey. Use it on pancakes, add to cheesecake, or stuff into pasta shells or lasagna.
I don’t know when I’ll get my hands on that much unpasteurized milk again, but the same recipe can be made with pasteurized whole milk. It will be interesting to see how it differs in taste.