Today, for the first time, I made ricotta cheese. That’s right, from scratch. Sounds a little fancy for a Wednesday afternoon activity doesn’t it? But as it turns out, making ricotta is about as simple as making porridge. It involves stirring two ingredients, followed by straining. Et voila! No more. A monkey could probably do it.
The inspiration for making ricotta was derived from my recently purchased copy of Mark Bittman’s book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It’s a book I came into contact with when staying with my friend Alice in Munich. At first I was slightly disturbed – it doesn’t include any pictures. I’m a visual creature and most of my cookbooks are filled with mouth-watering images of dishes. I soon realised however that Bittman’s tome is akin to an encyclopaedia covering everything from making bread, to pasta, and (to my surprise) cheese. I bought a copy as soon as I could, and have been reading it for the last couple of weeks.
Ricotta is a huge part of Italian cuisine, and Italian cuisine is very influential in Australia. Partly because of this, and partly because at the age of thirteen I promptly announced I was a vegetarian, spinach and ricotta cannelloni was on weekly rotation at my house. We used store bought ricotta, and until I read Bittman’s book, I had not actually considered making fresh cheese.
Traditionally ricotta can be made with sheep, goat, cow, or buffalo milk, but most store bought varieties are made of cow’s milk. It’s also technically a curd, as opposed to a cheese, as it’s made from whey. In Segur le Chateau, our petit epcierie sells local fresh goat’s cheese, which I now realise may be made in a similar way to ricotta. I need to look into that!
Ricotta takes on the taste of the milk that it is made with, so it’s wise to source milk that is as fresh as possible. I asked Kristoph if he’d consider buying me a cow and milking it. He declined. We agreed we’d keep our ear out for fresh milk sources from nearby farms. In the meantime I settled with an organic, whole, cow’s milk.
Here’s the very simple recipe:
Note – you will need some muslin or cheesecloth to use for straining.
2L whole milk
2 cups buttermilk
Step 1: On a medium to high setting, heat the milk in a heavy bottom pot for 10-15 minutes until the milk bubbles up the sides. Stir it occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching.
Step 2: Add the buttermilk to the boiling milk and stir. Like magic the curds will separate from the whey. Once separated remove from the heat and stir in a pinch of sea salt.
Step 3: Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth over a strainer. The curds will collect at the bottom and the whey will drain off. Leave for between 30 and 60 minutes depending on how dry you would like the ricotta. The longer you leave it the drier it will become.
Step 4: Eat right away, or scoop into a sealed container and refrigerate. Use wthin 3-4 days.
So this week I am focusing on developing my ricotta making skills, and experimenting with ricotta-based recipes. In the next couple of days I’ll be posting on my take on ricotta gnudi with sage and brown butter, and then moving on to baked ricotta.
Do you have any favourite ricotta-based dishes? If so, please do let me know in the comments box below. I’d love to read your ideas, and to try more savoury and sweet ricotta dishes.