I came back from Italy with a new appreciation for ricotta — it was soft and pudding-like for breakfast with a hint of sweet; it was in rich discus cakes filled with ricotta and chunks of chocolate; it was served in a simple dish of freshly made fettuccine, ricotta, and black pepper, which was one of my favorite meals of the trip.
And I’d always read that ricotta was one of the easiest cheeses to make – no rennet required.
The very next farmers’ market, I set out to get some of the best milk possible. The farmers selling pasteurized milk were out, so I purchased a half gallon of local raw cow’s milk.
Especially useful was this comparison of various acids and draining times.
I settled on heating 4 cups of milk to 180F (on the high end of the 165-185F range, but reading a blog on food poisoning has made me nervous about raw milk) with 3 teaspoons of distilled white vinegar and a pinch each of salt and sugar.
Now here’s the interesting part – I made this recipe almost exactly the same twice and had very different results.
I mixed together the 4 cups of milk and 2 teaspoons of vinegar, slowly raised the temperature (electric range with dial on 4 of 12).
By 160F, I had pebble-sized curds, but it didn’t separate further. I waited until 180F, when an enzyme might or might not be an broken down, and then added the last teaspoon.
(salt and sugar added around the 165F point, when I was fiddling and eager for something to happen)
Beautiful separate occurred, and I drained promptly.
Results were just like ricotta cheese available in containers in stores and not the magical stuff of Italy. All in all a success, but worth playing with more.
(made two days later, if age of the milk might be a factor)
This time, I heated the milk first without mixing in other ingredients. Same rate of heating.
Salt and sugar still went in around 165F.
All of the vinegar, however, was slowly poured at 180F. Again, all three teaspoons were needed before separation occurred.
Resulting texture, however, was much more in the squeaky cheese curd family. This is not ricotta, and I have no idea what’s different.
I turned down the heat as soon as it hit 180F, so it shouldn’t have spent significantly more time at temperature, and it didn’t go higher.
Both had the same yield: roughly half a pint.
OTOH, I am so making lasagne later this week and trying the ricotta for a middle layer and the second batch instead of mozzerella (or in addition to).