As a follow-up to my last post, you should begin making your own ricotta for the same reasons that you’re now making your own yogurt. It’s easy, saves plastic, gives you control, is satisfying, and is cheaper. I’ll give the recipe in a moment, but first an explanation about ricotta. Ricotta means “re-cooked” in Italian. Traditional Italian ricotta is made by reheating or “recooking” whey, once the cheese curds have been removed. This recooking coagulates the remaining proteins and forms ricotta cheese, which is really less of a “cheese” and more of a byproduct of cheese making. Traditional ricotta is much drier than its American counterpart. Unless you make cheese, you won’t be making traditional ricotta. But you can make a product very much like it using milk instead of whey. Here’s how:
1) Heat two quarts milk to around 170 degrees, stirring to keep it from burning. As it reaches 170, lower the temperature significantly so that it continues to increase in temperature rather gently.
2) Add about 1/4 cup lemon juice and stir. The ricotta will start to coagulate. Stir gently and then ladle out the curds into a container. As the temperature increases, more curds will form, especially if you add more lemon juice. You’ll know when you’ve gotten all the curds formed when the whey turns from opaque (like milk) to a translucent color. Both temperature and amount of lemon juice affect this process. You might use up to 1/3+ cup lemon juice depending on temperature. But don’t go crazy, because you don’t want the flavor affected too much by the lemon juice.
3) Once all the curds are ladled out, drain off any excess whey and let cool, stirring in salt to taste (about ¼ teaspoon or so).
4) This ricotta will be drier than store bought. To make it resemble store bought ricotta, add milk as needed to loosen it up.