You may be wondering why you would go through the trouble of making your own ricotta when the store-bought version is so handy. But like most cheeses, fresh ricotta bears little resemblance to its commercially prepared counterpart. It is unobtrusively sweet and delicate, even transcendent when partnered with roasted figs, as in this simple recipe. Best of all, it requires only three ingredients and is blessedly un-fussy.
1 gallon whole milk
½ cup fresh lemon juice
Pinch or two of salt
Large metal (NOT nonstick) pot
Two quart-size canning jars or other glass containers (one for cheese, one for whey)
Cheesecloth, thin tea towel, nut milk bag or new, washed lingerie bag (see P.S.)
Candy/cooking thermometer (not essential, but helpful)
1. Pour milk into a large metal pot (not a nonstick pan). Turn the burner to low-medium. Heat the milk slowly, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 185 degrees (see P.P.S.).
2. Turn off the burner and briefly stir in the lemon juice. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, until you see separation occurring. If you don’t see distinct curds forming after 10 minutes, add a tablespoon more lemon juice and stir again.
3. At this point you are ready to separate the cheese from the whey. You have a few options. You can put a fine mesh strainer over a bowl, line it with cheesecloth or a tea towel, and pour the milk mixture over the cheesecloth as pictured. You could hang your nut milk/lingerie bag over the bowl and carefully pour the milk mixture into the bag, letting the bag catch the curds. Or, if the idea of pouring a scalding pot of liquid sounds a little dangerous, scoop the curds out with a fine-mesh strainer. Try different methods until you find one that produces the texture of cheese you prefer. A loose or thin fabric like cheesecloth will produce a drier, crumblier cheese; a thicker fabric like a tea towel will result in a wet, soft cheese since it will retain more moisture. When your cheese is as dry as you like, scoop it into a jar and stir in a pinch of salt to retain freshness. Pour the whey from the bowl into another jar and save it for later (there are lots of ideas online).
The cheese will remain fresh in the refrigerator for several days. I recommend using it in a recipe where its flavors will shine, not a dish like lasagna where it will be overwhelmed. Enjoy!
P.S.: When I started experimenting with making my own almond milk, most of the recipes required the use of a nut milk bag. I couldn’t find one nearby and didn’t want to order it online, but I found a small lingerie bag in my favorite local gift shop (shout-out to It’s a Gift) that looked identical to the nut milk bags I’d seen on the interwebs. It works like a charm for cheese-making and almond milk, and it only set me back a few bucks. Don’t worry, I’ve never used it for my unmentionables. This tutorial shows me using cheesecloth, but know that the process is really versatile.
P.P.S.: If you don’t have a thermometer, you can still make this cheese. Wait until the milk has tiny bubbles on the surface, is starting to shimmy, and is fragrant. Then be patient for a few more minutes while it continues to heat, but don’t let it boil.