Monday, August 20, 2012

Ricotta- Let Me Count the Ways

Let me start by saying this I don't like ricotta. I don't like it in lasagna, I don't like it in cheese ravioli. It's dry, and powdery, and shouldn't even be allowed to call itself cheese. Let me come back to that.
About a month ago, I saw on another blogger's site something about cheese-making. I was intrigued. I clicked, and followed, and clicked and followed, and found that there was this thing called Cheesepalooza. It was starting this year, and it was a world-wide cheese-making class that would take place over the internet. Each month a new cheese would be attempted by the participants. I told my mom right away. About four years ago she bought me a cheese-making book, but I was so daunted by the lengthy list of special ingredients, I never pursued it. I make buttermilk at home. That's about it. And sometimes my 2-year-old makes homemade cheese in his cup when he throws it under the hutch.
So, after reading the details about this 'Cheesepalooza', and with some encouragement from a kind lady in Canada, I decided to join. Several experienced cheese-makers would be helping us, guiding us along the way. For the first month, the challenge was ricotta. Nobody in the house likes ricotta. I don't even like cottage cheese, and that's what people use in place of ricotta. There are few things I don't like. 1. Cottage cheese. 2. Cauliflower 3. Canned tomato soup. 4. Ricotta. That's about it. Anything else...oh wait, add foi gras to that list. It could have been the preparation, but at this point I am going to say I don't like it. I will eat just about anything (oh, and those shrimps with the eyes....can't get past that) Anyway, I decided I would make the ricotta anyway, because more often than not when you make something at home it is a completely different creature than what you get at the store. Also, I know I would like ricotta gnocci, so worst case scenario I could whip up a batch of that, or baci di ricotta, these little ricotta doughnuts (need I say more) that are deep fried (still not convinced) dusted with powdered sugar, and devoured before they are cool enough to be handled.
So, I had a few options up my sleeves. I finally got around to making it, after countless delays, and something wasn't right.  It didn't separate, there were little baby curds floating in a milky substance. I called for help. Now, this is exactly why I wanted cheese-making friends. I thought I had done something wrong, but what, I had no idea.Turns out, it wasn't my fault. You can add a bit more citric acid, or even vinegar to help it along. If I had tried again I would have done the same thing again, which probably would have yielded the same results. I would have, more that likely, given up.
Instead, this story had a different ending. I called for help and my cheese-making friends encouraged me to try again, giving ideas for what went wrong. I tried again. What I have now is about two pounds of soft ricotta (I didn't let mine get too dry) that is just amazing. My husband and I tried it in a bowl with honey. Wow. So smooth and creamy, it is like cream cheese but not as tangy and much softer. As I was eating it, I thought about olives, a little bit of orange zest and some crostini. I couldn't wait to do some experiments.
My two older boys both wanted some, so I spread a bit of plain ricotta on a piece of whole wheat pita. The middle son took a little bite and said, "Wow, Mom, that's really good! It tastes like butter!" He ate more of it, and then today he was asking for more of that cheese that I made. It's a pretty good feeling. I have included two recipes for crostini, and I am sure I will make the baci di ricotta, if not tonight tomorrow night, because that's how we roll.

Homemade Ricotta
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid
1 gallon whole milk
2 teaspoons salt, divided

Heat heavy cream, citric acid, whole milk, and 1 teaspoon of salt over medium heat to 185 degrees in a large pot. Occasionally scrape the pot with a rubber spatula.

Meanwhile, rig up your cheese draining apparatus. I used a bowl, a sieve, and some muslin. Muslin takes a while to drain (like 4 hours), so you might want to use cheesecloth. I would expect that would drastically cut the draining time.

Watch for the separation of curds. It will look like this. Cover with a lid and allow to sit for ten minutes.
 Ladle the curds into your muslin or cheesecloth. Once it has drained, tie it up and hang it over something to finish dripping. I hung it in the shower, but make sure you rinse that whey down because its pretty slippery. Store in a container.

  • Appearance: tiny, grainy curds
  • Nose (aroma): almost none, just milky
  • Overall Taste: like rich cream cheese, but not as tangy
  • Sweet to Salty: sweet
  • Mild (mellow) to Robust to Pungent (stinky): very mild
  • Mouth Feel: (gritty, sandy, chewy, greasy, gummy, etc.): smooth and creamy

 These two uses for ricotta are very similar, and yet so different. They showcase the fresh cheese's texture and taste.

The first I made with fresh tomatoes from my garden, cracked black pepper, a mixture of olives, a bit of the olive brine drizzled on top, and grated orange zest.  A salty bite, with the fresh tomatoes and cool ricotta, was just perfect.

The second I made with peaches, fresh basil from my garden, some crumbled pecans and a drizzle of honey. The flavors were so fresh and delicious, it was like dessert but without the guilt.


  1. Awesome! I'm glad it worked out for you in the end and it didn't put you off! It's interesting reading around everyone's entries to find how different everyone's is. Cheese is a mystery!

    1. It is! I am just so grateful that I had help, because I probably would have given up!

  2. Laurel!
    What a gorgeous post! ANd hilarious! You like it! You like it!
    This reminds me of the old Mikey commercial. Your mom may remember it! I fell so so so bad I didn't get to call you when you were in need, yet am so happy you persevered and solved the problem. I will call - and we can skype, too - or ichat. Do you have a mac! It would be SO much fun for you to show me the issue! I can usually help as I will have made the challenge cheese - usually a few times before it is out! I have now made ricotta countless times and am SO SO SO glad you and your husband and children enjoy it. With honey and fresh berries - I love it just with olive oil and salt on toast... mmmmm! Try my yogurt cheese balls and the Boursin. Both are DEADLY delicious. SO, mom didn't help you with this one?
    People had trouble - me, too - but fortunately not the first time.
    Standing Ovation!

    1. No help from Mom on this one, but I think we will try the next one together.

  3. I agree with your thoughts of ricotta. It's never been my favorite cheese because it always seems kind of bland. I usually substitute cottage cheese for ricotta in my lasagnia, but your recipe with the tomatoes looks tasty! When I make mine, I'll probably add some salt and maybe some herbs and use it with tomatoes and olives like you did. It's making me hungry just thinking about it.!


    1. Good luck! It is definitely worlds different from the grocery store.

  4. Yay so glad that you had success with your second batch, it looks amazing. Love that savory combination

  5. Looks amazing!!! Congratulations.

  6. Awesome that you hung in there and made it again to such success!

  7. I love your conversion story from being an anti-ricotta person to a flavour combination aficionado. I too have been daunted by cheesemaking in the past and am so looking forward to this Cheesepalooza adventure (and its yields). Here is to labouring through the tough moments and producing some great cheeses!

  8. I do think that the difference between the commercial ricotta and the one you make yourself is huge, so no wonder you like your own! Great that it came together in the end and with such a surprising result. I guess you didn't foresee yourself liking the ricotta.. ;)


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