Homemade Fresh Ricotta Cheese
Crumbly, crystalline aged cheeses and cheeses bearing that ripe, in-your-face (and up-your-nose) funk — to both I say yes, please, and thank you very much.
Then there are the light and fresh cheeses. So quintessentially summer, with simple recipes to match the laid-back warm weather vibe.
Hand-formed balls of mozzarella are glorious, but homemade ricotta is what’s calling my name these days. Partly for its versatility, but more so because the recipe is even easier and quicker.
In as little as about 90 minutes, 8 cups of milk, 1/3 cup of regular white vinegar, and a pinch of salt (or not) become 2 cups of soft and creamy ricotta cheese that can be eaten right then and there, or kept up for further draining to yield a slightly more firm version. Both are fabulous, so I usually do some of each!
What’s in it for me?
A 1/4-cup serving of ricotta cheese contains approximately 5 grams (g) protein — a combination of casein and whey proteins that helps provide energy, curb hunger, stabilize blood sugars by slowing absorption of glucose into the bloodstream after meals and snacks, and also may improve blood pressure levels. Whey itself is a complete protein (contains all of the body’s essential amino acids) “fast-acting,” meaning it’s utilized very rapidly to help repair, rebuild + limit breakdown of muscle following moderate to intense physical activity.
Like all cheese + dairy products, ricotta provides calcium and vitamin D, both important for strong teeth and bones, and maintaining healthy blood pressure. Ricotta is also a good source of phosphorous and the antioxidant mineral selenium, and provides zinc, riboflavin (B2), and vitamin B12 in smaller amounts.
This recipe is for whole milk ricotta, and while slightly higher in fat than “part-skim” ricotta — approximately 16 g vs. 10 g per serving, respectively — the great taste of full-fat cheeses can still be enjoyed in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet. Adding to its nutritional benefits, research indicates that the “quality calories” of full-fat foods provide greater satisfaction and may help curb cravings + overeating. Furthermore, full-fat dairy in particular may help regulate hormones, specifically sex hormones, that can improve both male + female fertility.
Ricotta — as well as mozzarella, cheddar, Swiss, Colby and Monterey Jack — contains only a small amount of lactose per serving (about 1 g per 1/4 cup), and may be a better-tolerated option* for individuals who are otherwise sensitive to dairy products. The liquid whey, on the other hand, is where most of the lactose ends up during the draining process, and will likely not be well-tolerated.
Try it on toast with fresh fruit, preserves, or these amazing looking candied kumquats. Pizza is a given — asparagus ribbons with lemon, or swap the halloumi for ricotta on my savory strawberry pizza with spinach, chives and chillies. Feeling sophisticated? Cheat on the hard part and turn to wonton wrappers for elegant yet simple “shortcut ravioli” with peas, spinach, mint, ricotta + brown butter spinach pan sauce.
In the hot summer months, or any time of the year really, the freshness and versatility of homemade ricotta cheese can’t be beat. It’s a simple recipe with simple ingredients, but you’ll be wowed by the result — give it a try!
(If you missed last week’s Calcium Spotlight, click back to read up on the mineral that spurred this post.)
Tell me… Which cheese is your favorite?
- 1/2 gallon (2 quarts // 8 cups) whole milk
- 1/3 cup white distilled vinegar
- 1/8 tsp salt (optional)
- Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven. (Do not use aluminum or cast iron -- these are reactive, and will not work. Drop the stainless steel utensils while you're at it, too.) Over a medium flame, heat the milk until the temperature reaches 180° F on a candy or other kitchen-safe thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat, and immediately add the vinegar and salt; stir 1 minute. You will begin to see some curdling -- this is good. Cover the pan and set aside at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.
- Place a wide colander over a large bowl, and line it with a double layer of cheesecloth, kitchen/butter muslin, or simply 2 paper towels. Use a slotted spoon to gently transfer the large curds into the lined colander, so as not to break them up. Carefully pour the remaining curds and whey into the colander, and let it drain for 20 minutes or up to 2 hours -- shorter for softer curds (good for pancakes and waffles, baking, serving with fruit), and longer for firmer, less watery curds (good for pizza, sandwiches, salads). Do not press on the curds to speed the process.
- Use immediately, or transfer to a tightly-sealing container and refrigerate. Fresh ricotta will keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days, but is best eaten day of or shortly thereafter. To enjoy at a later point in the week, remove the ricotta from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before using.
*Try a very small portion of the ricotta first, and if no symptoms develop, stick to that amount, or gradually increase if able. This trialing is absolutely NOT appropriate if you have a diagnosed lactose/dairy allergy, unless your physician approves it and has provided you with explicit instructions for the process.
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