Easy and forgiving, homemade ricotta cheese is one of those culinary endeavors where the outcome far exceeds the effort. Even the hastiest, most inexpertly made version will have exponentially more flavor than supermarket tubs. It’s an ideal dish for DIY enthusiasts or anyone looking to impress at their next dinner party.
“I think ricotta is a fantastic gateway to the world of cheesemaking,” says Alisha Norris Jones, cheesemonger at Immortal Milk in Chicago. “Not only is it satisfying to see the first few steps of cheesemaking in action, making ricotta forces the aspiring cheesemaker to consider their milk sources.”
Ricotta recipes require very few ingredients, so each one counts. For instance, Norris Jones says, while she seeks out fresh, farmstead milk to make cheese, she’s less discerning with what she pours over her cereal.
To make ricotta at home, start with milk that hasn’t undergone ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurization, a process that changes milk’s protein structure and makes it difficult to separate the curds from whey in cheesemaking. Whole milk is key, too, as you need enough fat content to create delicious, distinct curds for your ricotta.
Embrace the search for the ideal dairy, says Norris Jones. “Ultimately, in the hunt for fresh, rich milk, one will find themselves at a local farmers market, homestead cheese operation or the dairy aisle of their local food cooperative,” she says. “Getting more involved in your food system is great for your body, community and lasagna.”
“Ricotta is a fantastic gateway to the world of cheesemaking.” —Alisha Norris Jones
Ingredients for fresh ricotta also include a coagulant like white vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid. We prefer white vinegar, since it’s inexpensive, widely available and has a consistent pH to create reliably successful ricotta. However, you can also substitute an equal amount of lemon juice or citric acid into the recipe below with great results.
This recipe produces a considerable amount of whey as a byproduct. While it’s not needed here, hang onto it, because whey is a versatile ingredient with many uses for enterprising home cooks. You can substitute whey for water in bread, pancakes, mashed potatoes, grits or polenta recipes with flavorful results. Covered in the refrigerator, leftover whey lasts up to one week. It can also be frozen for up to three months.
As for how to enjoy your homemade ricotta, the sky’s the limit. Try it in lasagna, dolloped on pizza or spread on toast. Norris Jones likes to sweeten and whip hers into spuma di ricotta, “which is essentially ricotta mousse,” she says. “With fresh fruit of your choosing, it’s a lovely summer dessert.”
That’s for when she’s serving her homemade ricotta to company. Alone, her preferred method is “at midnight, by the spoonful, in front of the refrigerator, with a twist of fresh cracked pepper.”
Your ricotta, your rules.
Homemade Ricotta Recipe
- 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk, not UHT pasteurized
- ¼ cup plain whole yogurt
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
Line strainer with cheesecloth or coffee filter and place over large bowl. Set aside.
Add milk and yogurt to medium-sized pot and stir to combine. Place on stovetop over medium-high heat. Using thermometer, bring mixture to 200°F. It may foam, steam and form an opaque skin as it comes to temperature. If it begins to boil, remove pot from burner, lower heat and return pot to medium or medium-low heat until milk-yogurt mixture reaches 200°. This can take 10–15 minutes, depending on stovetop and pan.
When mixture has come to temperature, remove from heat and add white vinegar and salt. Gently stir, and leave to sit, uncovered and off heat, for 15 minutes or until curds begin to appear. If curds don’t appear after 15 minutes, stir in additional ½ teaspoon white vinegar and let sit another 5 minutes.
After milk-yogurt mixture has separated into curds and liquid whey, pour through cheesecloth-lined strainer over bowl. Let liquid whey drain into bowl anywhere from 15–60 minutes, depending on whether a drier, crumbly cheese or more liquid ricotta is preferred.
Salt to taste. Homemade ricotta will keep, wrapped airtight in the refrigerator, for 1–2 weeks.