August 19, 2015

A Simple Ricotta Cheese

I'm guessing that anyone who does home cheese making eventually tries their hand at ricotta. It's a soft cheese traditionally made from the whey leftover from making other cheeses. Modern recipes tell how to make it with the addition of milk or from whole milk, but I always liked the idea of using a waste product (well, not really, because there are so many uses for whey), to make something that stands on it's own.

What is ricotta cheese? Unlike other cheeses, which consist primarily of the milk protein casein, ricotta is made from the albuminous protein in milk. Casein forms curds in the presence of rennet, whereas albuminous protein is not affected by rennet. Rather, it precipitates from the milk (or in this case whey) by heat. Hence the name from the Italian meaning to recook.

How to Make Ricotta

I think I've got it down to about as simple as it gets.
  • Simply put the drained whey into a clean pot and heat to 200° F (94° C). As it approaches this temperature, the albumin will separate from the water in the whey. Don't let it boil.

Ricotta curds forming

  • Allow the pot to cool to room temperature. The whey will be a clear greenish-yellow color (from riboflavin, according to Dr. Fankhauser) with a cloud of ricotta grains floating near the bottom. 
  • Scoop out as much of the whey as possible, then gently pour the rest through a butter or unbleached muslin lined colander sitting on a pot or bowl to catch the remaining whey. You can skip the whey scooping part, but the ricotta particulates are so fine that they take longer to drain if some of the whey isn't removed first.
  • Allow to drain. The cloth can be hung to facilitate draining.

I like my ricotta soft rather than dry.

  • Turn into a bowl or storage container. Salt if desired and keep in the fridge until ready to use. It's said to keep for about a week. 
  • Yield: Starting with a gallon of skimmed goats milk for the mozzarella, I average about 5 ounces of ricotta from the whey. I'm guessing the yield from cows milk would be about the same. 

That's it. No additional acid (vinegar or lemon juice) required. One of these is necessary for a fresh milk ricotta (or if additional milk has been added), but there is enough acidity in cheese whey to make ricotta without it. Dr. Fankhauser does recommend letting the whey sit overnight to increase it's acidity, but I've tried that and also tried making the ricotta immediately after I drain the whey from the cheese curds. I don't notice a significant difference in either taste or yield. It's easier for me to do it while I'm still in the kitchen messing with the mozzarella, so I do it then.

Greenish ricotta whey, so colored by riboflavin. There isn't much protein
left, but I still feed it to the pigs and chickens or use it for cooking. 

Now what? Cheesecake and lasagna, of course, but I've been experimenting and here's one of the recipes that we think is a 5-star keeper.

Gnocchi (Italian Dumplings)

  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 1 to 1.5 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • pinch salt
Blend the ingredients using enough flour to make a soft, workable dough. Knead well. (My ricotta is fairly soft, so my dough is soft. I refrigerate half a day to make the dough easier to work with.) Roll into "ropes", about the thickness of your thumb. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Drop into gently boiling water. They will sink to the bottom for several minutes and then rise to float on the top. I usually let them simmer a few more minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon.

Serve with your favorite sauce. They can also be made in soup broth as soup dumplings. My grandmother used to bake gnocchi in a cheese sauce like baked macaroni and cheese.

41 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Glorious stuff, actually, Just hoping I can learn to do it all justice.

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  2. Great post! I churned 10 pounds of butter last week and am making ricotta cheese today. It'll be mixed with chopped rosemary, S&P, and roasted cherry tomatoes on rosemary garlic bread. I hope I'm able to push away from the table when finished -lol-.

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    1. Sandra, that sounds delicious! I need to try seasoning my ricotta too.

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  3. Thanks for that Leigh. We want to make our own cheeses, had cows for years but sold all the raw milk to customers, but now that we are finally down to one cow we will soon have time to start making our own cheeses. Can't wait!

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    1. Donna, you are in for a treat. I confess that I've had more fails in my learning experience, but starting to master (as best as I'm able) a few basic cheeses has been great. When the weather gets cooler, I'll get back to hard cheeses once again.

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  4. This looks like the best recipe for ricotta I have seen. Adding fresh milk and an acid seemed to always result in a more cheese-like product versus a true ricotta for me. I must try when I ever get around to making mozzarella again.

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    1. Erika, I never wanted to "waste" milk on it either. I tried plain whey with added vinegar to make ricotta, but it was too tart for what I hoped for. With this recipe I feel like I'm truly getting all the best out of my milk.

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  5. Very interesting, Leigh. All of the ricotta recipes I've look at, but never tried, called for additional milk, so I never bothered. I will give this a try the next time I make cheese, which will probably be cheddar, tomorrow. And now you have me wondering if I could make a ricotta sourdough kind of pasta from this and cook them like noodles. What do you think? Thanks for the new ideas.

    Fern

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    1. I don't know why not. My gnocchi dough is pretty soft, but by making it firmer I should think it would make a good noodle. Great idea; I'll have to try it too.

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  6. I made soft cheeses when I had dairy goats many years ago, but I never made ricotta - WHY??????? I now ask myself! Of course nothing was wasted, as the hens and pigs benefited from the whey, but still...don't know how I missed this.
    I also got a kick out of "it's said to keep for a week" - clearly yours has never lasted long enough for you to test this :)

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    1. Since I make mozzarella once a week, I make ricotta once a week! It's been fun trying various recipes. I'll have to share the other good ones too.

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  7. I've only done this with whole milk as I have no goats.. I wonder if I could get cheap goats milk nearby.. I LOVE all of your posts; they are the first email I open in the morning!

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    1. Thank you!

      It doesn't have to be goats milk, so if you can get whole milk that is not ultrapasteurized (i.e. just regular pasteurized), then you can make your own whey by making your own cheese!

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  8. Hi Leigh! I wished we had liked the goat's milk, but my guys just didn't like it! And when I made riccotta, mozzarella and yogurt, it tasted quite strong. As in goaty! I think the aging, sitting, cooking did that. I like goat cheese; I just didn't want all my cheese to have that flavor. It was a great learning experience for us. I have since sold the goat I was milking. But I think it's great for people who like it! Thanks for sharing! Blessings from Bama!

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    1. Felecia, some goats do give a stronger flavored milk despite keeping everything clean and sanitary. Sometimes it's diet related (lack of cobalt or vitamin B) sometimes it's breed related. Apparently the breeds that give a higher butterfat content milk give a "better" tasting milk. Even then, some goats give strong milk, just as some humans have a keener sense of taste when it comes to it. At least you tried!

      Now, if you ever get a cow, then you're back in the cheese and yogurt making business. :)

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  9. wow! I never knew that's where ricotta came from. pretty clever

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    1. Pretty amazing, actually. I doubt I would have figured it out by myself!

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  10. Leigh,

    Thanks for the information. I'm planning on making my own ricotta when things calm down here. We love having ricotta for breakfast with fresh fruit and local honey, or even with certain pasta dishes for lunch and / or dinner. I've never made gnocchi, I may have to give it a shot.
    Hugs,
    Sandy

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    1. Ricotta with honey and fruit sounds lovely. We'll have to try that too. :)

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  11. You've taught me something again. One day I'd like to try cheesemaking. I also thought Gnocchi was only made from potatoes, so it feels like a schoolday.

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    1. I've seen potato gnocchi too, but I'm not sure how that is made. That would be something to look up and try.

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    2. I just googled potato gnocchi, and learned that the potatoes are baked and run through a ricer. The recipe is similar to mine except the potato replaces the ricotta.

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  12. Alas for me, for all my years of trying to be self sufficient I can't make cheese, and it's a mainstay of our diet. I do have canned cheese, cheese powder, and I buy blocks of cheese on sale at the grocery store and freeze them in a deep freezer. But when they are gone, they are gone.......

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    1. I can't say that all of my cheeses have come out so great, but I keep on trying and eventually get a fairly good result!

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  13. Hi! That was very interesting to read how you made the ricotta. I don't know as I have ever even tasted it. Guess I have not lived yet! Nancy

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    1. Nancy, if you've had cheesecake or lasagna, you've probably had ricotta!

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  14. Wow! I wonder if I could make that from the Paneer I make. There is acid in the whey, though, from making the curds come together. I think I will try a little batch to see. The hard part is finding the milk...No boy goats, no milk!

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    1. It would definitely be worth an experiment. I'm not sure exactly how acidic the milk has to be, but I consider my mozzarella whey to be fairly sweet and it works. If it's acid enough to make cheese, then heat alone ought to make ricotta. Let me know how it works!

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  15. By the way, The Beverage People in Santa Rosa, CA have the least expensive cheese cultures I have found.

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    1. Thank you for that, Barb. I've not experimented much with purchased cheese cultures, but if the price was right I'd give it a try. :)

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    2. Just took a look at their online catalog. Very interesting with lots of good information.

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  16. OMG, I love gnocchi! They are my absolute favourite whenever going to an Italian restaurant, which is about once a year. I have never dared to try to make them myself, after a rather traumatic attempt at making home made raviol iin school kitchen many decades ago.

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    1. Now, ravioli sounds hard to make! But gnocchi is super easy. Worth a try!

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  17. Saw your post today and the link to this and now looking back at this valuable post, I realized I missed it the first time around!

    I have made "ricotta" a few times but I must say the recipes I used always started with milk. I didn't realize true ricotta was made with the whey. Probably why it never seemed to us like ricotta we'd get in the store. Thanks for this info!! As always, you ROCK! ;-)

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  18. Leigh,
    I make yogurt all the time - 2 gallons of organic milk, strain to 50% and have about a gallon of yogurt whey leftover. Can I use this sort of whey to make cheese? I've read about acidic and non-acidic whey but I don't know the difference. Help!

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    1. Marcella, it's been a long time since I've made yogurt and yogurt cheese (I make kefir now instead), but I would certainly be willing to see what happens by heating yogurt whey to about 200° F. I'm not sure what would happen, but it would be worth experimenting with.

      Yogurt whey would be an example of an acidic whey because the yogurt has been cultured to be sour (acidic). Non-acidic wheys are basically the ones from cheeses made with rennet. In other words, it's the rennet curdles sweet (fresh) milk, so the whey is "sweet," i.e. not tangy. My ricotta is made from non-acidic mozzarella whey.

      Anyway, experiment! And please let me know what you figure out.

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    2. Since posting to you I found this! http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/family-recipes/homemade-ricotta-cheese-using-whey-drained-from-yogurt

      I'm going to try it in a few weeks when I make another batch. Usually I just "water" the garden with the yogurt whey - pepper plants, tomatoes and my citrus trees love it! I'll let you know what comes of it!

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    3. Excellent! Thank you for letting me know and thank you for the link. Whey makes good fertilizer too, so it's never wasted. Still, to get another cheese out of it is splendid. Do keep me posted. :)

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