Homemade ricotta is ridiculously easy (Do you know how to put milk in a pot and turn on the stove? How about squeeze lemons? Then you know how to make ricotta!), and it tastes exponentially better than store-bought. Plus, you look like a TOTAL ROCKSTAR when you serve it to people who don't know that it's so easy to make.
Get ready for this dinner conversation:
"Mmmm! The ricotta on this crostini is so insanely delicious! Where did you buy it? Probably had it shipped from crazy-expensive cheese shop in Florence or Paris or Brooklyn, right?"
"No, actually." Hair Flip. "I made it myself."
"Shut the front door!" (Or something slightly more vulgur if this is post cocktails.) "Are you serious?"
"I am. It's really no big deal-"
"No big deal?! You can make your own cheese? You are incredible! You are amazing! You should open your own cheese shop/restaurant! Will you marry me?"
You can use any kind of milk- whole, skim, raw, conventional, organic-- and it works pretty much the same. I have been buying organic whole lately because I heard it's healthier, but anything will work. I've also tried goat milk, and that works too-- but it has a very strong "goaty" flavor, so you would use that sparingly in a recipe (or maybe use half cow, half goat?), unless you like licking goats.
The cream/half and half makes the cheese richer and thicker, which of course I think = better, but you can certainly leave it out.
You can also use vinegar to curdle the cheese, but I prefer lemon juice.
makes about 2 cups
2 quarts + 1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream or half and half (optional)
Generous pinch of kosher salt, or to taste
1/3 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (before you juice one of the lemons, zest it)- plus have a little more “standing by” in case you need more to curdle your milk (acidity level in lemons can vary)
Handful of chopped fresh herbs (optional)
Pour the milk and cream into a large enameled or stainless steel saucepan, add the salt, and hook a thermometer on the side of the pot. Heat the milk. Once it gets to about 180 degrees, don’t walk away... if the milk boils, not only will your cheese taste “overcooked”, but it could boil over and make a huge mess. Once it gets to 190-195 degrees, pull it off heat and add the lemon juice, and stir gently until the mixture has separated into thick curds and a clear liquid (the whey).
Let mixture sit for about 15-20 minutes. Spoon curds into a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl (or a sieve lined with a double layer of cheesecloth).
Allow cheese to drain for about 15-20 minutes (or longer if you’d like a firmer, dryer cheese). Discard the whey, or save for another use (Swap whey for water in your baking recipes! Add it to your smoothies! Also great for your garden... ). After the cheese is drained, scrape it into a bowl. Add the lemon zest and herbs, and taste for salt.
This cheese tastes most delicious the day you make it. If you are serving same day, don't bother refriegerating it-- the curds are lighter and fluffier. If you do refrigerate it, the cheese is still delcious, but it settles a bit, and the curds are a little heavier and denser.
I like to serve it simply-- on crostini with maybe a little chopped tomato or peperonata? Fresh melon or peach slices? Toasted pistachios and rhododendron honey?
But this certainly works beautifully in any ricotta recipe that you have-- stuffed shells, lasagna, and especially ricotta gnocchi.