Two things I love. I love tinkering in the kitchen and I love to use that tinkering to get me a little sumpin’ sumpin’ now and then that might not normally fit into my budget. And when that homemade version blows away the commercial product, especially when it’s a minimum of work and mess, I’m all over it. That’s the case with this Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta.
Did you know there are over 10 types of Ricotta? I didn’t until I started looking into it. And while Ricotta is usually made from the whey that’s a byproduct of other cheese, with a bit of milk added, Whole Milk Ricotta really is a legit form of the cheese. According to Wikipedia, Whole Milk Ricotta may have been one of the earliest forms of the cheese, dating back to the bronze age.
About Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta:
So what I’m sayin’ is there’s no shame in your game (or mine) if you want to make a whole milk ricotta. It’s so fresh, so creamy and so luscious, once you try it, you’ll want to make it all the time. And once you see how easy it is, and how quick (about 30 minutes, mostly it’s hands-off time) you’re gonna think “What the heck? I’ve been cheated all my life!” Cheated out of all the times you could have had this lusciousness and settled instead for some grainy, cold, congealed mess in a plastic tub. And then you’re going to think about how much you might have paid for that commercial product and you’re gonna want to slap yourself upside the head.
I swear once you make your Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta, you’re gonna be rocking this like a boss! You’re going to be looking for reasons to make ricotta and looking for ways to use it. And you’re going to be thinking about Ricotta and seeing Ricotta everywhere. It’ll be like when you’re pregnant and all you see is pregnant women and/or babies. Or maybe how you google something weird, like a strange disease (not admitting to anything) and all of a sudden ads pop up everywhere for docs and medicines.
And not only are you going to think of Ricotta in a whole new way, think of the street cred, the brownie points you’ll get when you serve it…I mean c’mon! And now maybe your mind is, like mine, going to Ricotta and Brownies. Hmmm is that a thing? How about other Ricotta Desserts? Yeah, be prepared because after you make this, that’s what your life is gonna be like. You’ll want Ricotta everything. Fair warning.
Making Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta:
And if you think I’m raving on like a lunatic (and I know I am) just give homemade Ricotta a try. If you’ve ever made Ricotta from whey (I’ve tried it before coz I’m a geek) you know the yield isn’t that great. It’s kind of stingy and it can be grainy and not nearly as luscious as Whole Milk Ricotta. You’re gonna be happy, I think, to know that you’re going to get two to two and a half cups of whole milk Ricotta from 4 cups of milk (and a little cream if you wish) with a minimum of effort. (There are other methods, btw; but this is my favorite.)
All you do is heat milk (you might want to add a little cream) until it comes up to 185 degrees F; it won’t hurt it if it goes higher. Use a large pan, milk boils over easily. Stir now and then so it doesn’t scorch. If you do happen to feel residue on the bottom of the pan, don’t scrape or stir it up; just leave it be.
When it reaches temperature, take it off the heat and add the salt and acid. The acid can be one of three things: lemon, vinegar or citric acid. You may be familiar with citric acid; it’s in a lot of prepared foods. The lemon may give a barely detectable, vaguely lemony taste to the final product, vinegar will be pretty neutral and citric acid will leave behind, I think, the cleanest taste.
Let sit for 10 minutes, then check it – it should be coagulating nicely and you should see white curds. When you nudge them aside, you should see slightly yellowish liquid, the whey, not white milk. If it isn’t coagulating or the liquid is milky white, add a smidge more acid and let it sit a bit longer. Of the three acids, lemon is the one that varies most in strength, so it’s more likely you may need more acid if using lemon than if you’re using vinegar or citric acid, although it can happen with any of them.
Straining Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta:
Ricotta strains better if the cheesecloth in the strainer is damp, and you can strain ricotta to whatever stage you want. It can be soft and spreadable for crostini or pizza. You can go longer if you wish to use it in a dessert, maybe like cannoli. If you wish, you can make a kind of farmer’s cheese by wrapping it into cheesecloth and pressing it with weight for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Leave it in the strainer and put a small plate on top and add something heavy, like a large can of tomatoes.
Be sure to keep your ricotta covered during all stages of straining, either with the excess cheesecloth or a very clean towel. If straining slows, use a clean spoon to gently nudge the cheese from the center to the sides.
Make sure to watch the liquid level in the container you’re straining into. If it rises so high it reaches the bottom of the cheese, you’ll want to empty it out. You can use that strained liquid, the whey in several ways if you wish, baked goods. for one. This post is so long, I’m not going to list all the ways at this point, but feel free to do a search. I have yet to try to make ricotta from it!!
The Milk to Make Whole Milk Ricotta:
You’ll be using whole milk for this recipe (obvs) although I’ve heard that two percent can be used, and I like to use a little cream (which is completely optional) in mine. Either unpasteurized or pasteurized milk works, but not Ultra-Pasteurized or UHT milk.
- Unpasteurized milk will be a safe option because it is heated high enough and long enough in the process of making the Ricotta to actually pasteurize it. See next paragraph.
- Pasteurized milk is milk that is heated (in the US) to a range of time and temperature to render it safe to store and consume within a reasonable amount of time (about three weeks). Those times and temps may range from as low as 145 degrees F. for 30 minutes to as high as 162 degrees F. for 15 seconds. The treatment destroys most of the microorganisms present and prolongs storage.
- Ultrapasteurized milk and cream are heated to at least 280° for at least two seconds and must be refrigerated but has a longer shelf life, up to six weeks or so.
- Ultra-high-temperature milk and cream (UHT) are heated to 280° to 302° F for one or two seconds. UHT milk and/or cream is packaged in sterile, hermetically sealed container and may be kept without refrigeration for several months.
Neither ultrapasteurized or ultra-high-temperature products are suitable for cheese or yogurt making; the high heat alters the protein structure an makes the milk unsuitable for the forming of curds. Most organic milk is Ultra-Pasteurized, so read the label well and/or check the producer’s website.
Special Considerations for Food Safety:
I’ve looked at quite a few recipes for whole milk ricotta and not one has made a mention of food safety. I get that mentioning contamination and fresh cheese in the same beath can be a bit off-putting, but better to take a few simple precautions as you make and store your fresh cheese than to put yourself or others at risk, even if the risk is very small.
According to the CDC, fresh, creamy cheeses can harbor all kinds of nasty things, including Listeria, which grows in cold temperatures and can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. I like to take a few minutes and make sure my equipment is pristinely clean and dry, including my hands and counter, the strainer, utensils, and the containers I will use for straining and the one I plan on storing my cheese in. I also keep my cheesecloth as clean as possible, in the original package or a Ziploc; I don’t just toss it in a drawer unwrapped after it’s been open.
I don’t usually go so far as to sterilize because I know I’ll be using my Ricotta in a matter of days, but I do toss everything in the dishwasher on a hot cycle and use fresh and dry from the dishwasher. If hand washing, wash in a clean sink with several drops of bleach and allow to dry on a clean towel or better yet, a paper towel placed over a clean towel.
Any off colors, odors, signs of mold or other growth are a reason to toss the ricotta. In a soft cheese, especially one like Ricotta that isn’t cultured (made with a good bacteria that may overtake and crowd out bad bacteria) it’s not enough to, for instance, just scoop out a portion that doesn’t look good and use the rest. The contamination in a wet soft cheese will likely be present in all areas.
Saving Money on Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta:
If you have an Aldi nearby, it is a great place to buy both milk and cream. The price of milk at Aldi in my area is always less than that at the grocery or at the buyer’s clubs, and cream is generally half the price of that at the grocery and less than at the buyer’s club – the container of cream at Aldi is also a pint (2 cups) while at the buyer’s club it’s usually a quart (4 cups). Obviously, using the optional cream increases the price of your Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta, but it also increases the quality and the yield.
As far as the acid, plain old white vinegar is always going to be the least expensive option (white wine vinegar may be used as well) and keeps the best. Citric acid may not be readily available, but is often used in canning and if kept dry, keeps for several years. If using this amount of lemon, you’ll likely need two, just to make sure you have enough. It’s a pricier option. Real Lemon is a great option and often used in canning, as well, simply because the strength of the acid in Real Lemon doesn’t vary. I usually keep a bottle of Real Lemon in my fridge to keep cut fruits or avocado from browning since I don’t always have a lemon or lime on hand. My daughter used to like to make an “emergency” lemon aid from it!
Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 to 2 cups heavy cream (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons white or white wine vinegar, 1/2 cup of lemon juice or 1 teaspoon citric acid dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
Ready your equipment. Line a strainer with two layers of cheesecloth, dampen the cheesecloth and place over a container to catch the whey. Set aside.
Pour the milk and cream (if using cream) into a stainless-steel or enameled pot. Place a candy thermometer on side of the pot, so the mercury is in the milk and not touching the bottom of the pan. If using a probe thermometer, it can be added at any time.
Slowly over medium heat, gently stirring occasionally, bring the temperature up to at least 185 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in salt and preferred acid. Allow the mixture to stand for 10 minutes. Check it. It should be curdled, separated into the white curds (will be very soft) and the whey (which will be a yellowish liquid.) Gently push aside the curds from the center of the pot; if the liquid is still milky and white, add a little more acid and wait another 5 to 10 minutes.
If more acid is needed, start with 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice or another teaspoon of citric acid dissolved in water, wait 5 to 10 minutes and check again. Repeat if necessary.
Strain to desired thickness, 20 to 25 minutes; cover with the excess cheesecloth or a clean towel while straining. May be pressed overnight. See notes in above text.
Place in a pristinely clean container for storage in refrigerator; keeps well for four to five days.