Making ricotta cheese is the topic of this month’s Recipes to Rival, which was chosen by Lauren of I’ll Eat You. This was a great choice by Lauren and I hope it inspires more people to experiment further with cheese making.

Ricotta literally translates to “cooked twice” and it refers to the fact that ricotta cheese is made by recooking the whey from a cheese curd, usually mozzarella. The R2R recipe that Lauren provided was not this complex and called for essentially making an acid set curd by cooking milk and buttermilk until the curds separate. However, Nick has some experience making mozzarella curd, so we were inspired by this challenge to make some true blue homemade ricotta cheese. To do this, you first have to make the mozzarella curd.

Follow up:

The process we followed is a combination of skills garnered from Fankhauser’s Cheese Page, and the wealth of knowledge in:

Image from Amazon
Making Artisan Cheese: Fifty Fine Cheeses That You Can Make in Your Own Kitchen (Quarry Book) by Tim Smith

Here is what you will need to make mozzarella curd:

  • 1 1/2 gallons of whole milk (not ultra pasteurized)
  • 5 Tbl cultured buttermilk
  • 5 Tbl plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 junket rennet tablets, dissolved in 3 oz of water

In anticipation of making this cheese, we purchased one gallon of raw milk from M & B Farview Farm by Nick’s parent’s house in Pennsylvania. Raw milk is highly prized by cheese makers as it has not been adulterated (pasteurized or homogenized) in any way and generally yields the best tasting final product. The cream layer is readily apparent on top of the milk and is reminiscent of descriptions I have heard about how milk “used to be.” Note that it is illegal in most states to buy or sell raw milk, in PA a special certification from the state is required to do so (M&B has said certification).

We also bought these eggs from the farmer. How cute…

So we used 1 gallon of raw milk and one half gallon of pasteurized whole milk. It is important when making cheese that you do not use ultra pasteurized milk because the level of heat in the ultra pasteurization process denatures the proteins that form the curds, this equals no cheese for you. The brand of pasteurized milk that we normally buy is Natural by Nature, they produce a variety of organic, grass fed, dairy products.

1. Start by sterilizing your pot by boiling a small amount of water in it, with the lid on, for a minimum of 5 minutes. Then, heat the milk to 90F on low heat, be sure to stir often so it does not scorch. Measure temperature with a meat or candy thermometer, digital is preferable. Once the milk is at 90F add the starter (buttermilk and yogurt whisked together). Let it ripen and hold at around 90F for 45 minutes, do not stir.

2. Add the rennet tablets dissolved in water to the ripened mixture and stir for 5 minutes with a whisk. Now, let the milk mixture sit at the target temperature of 90F for one hour. At this point, the curds will be forming so it is important not to disturb the pot.

3. After one hour, you can check to see if the curds are fully formed and what you are looking for is a clean break. It is important that your curds are at the right consistency before continuing. If you cut them too soon they will be mushy and if you cut them too late, they will not cut cleanly. A clean break is signified when you place your finger (with thoroughly washed hands) in the mixture at a 45 degree angle and then pull upwards. If the curds lift and break around your finger, that means they are ready to cut. Once you have a clean break, cut the curds in 1/2 inch cubes (really they will be 1/2 inch cubed columns). We used a long thin fish knife, but any long knife will do.

Here is what it should look like after you cube the curds:

4. Now, reheat the curds to 90F and maintain this temperature for 30 minutes. Next slowly raise the temperature to 105F over a 30 minute period. While the temperature is rising, with thoroughly washed hands, cut the curd columns into cubes by pushing the curds into a butter knife until all the long pieces are cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Once you reach this temperature allow the curds to cook for another 5-10 minutes.

This is what it should look like after the second cutting:

5. Now drain the curds and whey in a cheese cloth lined colander with a catch bowl underneath. You want to make sure to preserve all that whey for ricotta. Wrap up the ball of cloth and curds and tie it securely to your faucet (we used 3 rubber bands) or to a wooden spoon that will securely rest over your sink. Allow the curds to drain naturally until it no longer drains liquid.

6. Once the curds are done draining, strain the whey again in a cheese cloth lined colander into a large container. This will ensure the removal of any left over curd particles, which will form tough beads in the final ricotta. Out of 1 1/2 gallons of milk, I have just over 1 gallon of whey.

7. Remove the cheesecloth and place the curds in another container.

At this point, you have 2 options;

A. You can allow the curds and the whey to sit out at room temperature for 5-12 hours and 12-24 hours, respectively. This allows both mixtures to develop acidity. If you are going to do this, it is advisable to have some PH papers to test the levels. The final PH of the mozzarella should be about 5.3. The problem here is that you really need to be able to monitor the mixtures carefully, because if they overdevelop acidity they will be ruined.

OR

B. Refrigerate the curds and the whey until you are ready to process them further, no longer than 24 hours.

We chose the second option because we did this on a school night and did not have time the next day to babysit the mixtures until they were at the proper acidity. In ideal conditions, I would have liked to allow both mixtures to naturally develop acidity by sitting at room temperature.

Since we chose option B, once we were ready to process the curds and whey, we had to create the necessary acidity by cooking the curds for 2-3 hours over a carefully monitored double boiler and adding vinegar to the whey.You want to process the curds first, because as they are being cooked they will release more whey that you will want to use to make the ricotta.

8. To process the curds, fill 2 medium sized sauce pans with water and split the curds in half in 2 glass pyrex bowls. Place the glass bowls over the pots of water like a double boiler and heat the water to 105F. Hold the water at this temperature and allow the curds to cook for 2-3 hours. This will require some babysitting and turning the burners on and off to regulate temperature. Flip the curds occasionally so they are evenly heated. As the curds cook, they will release more whey that you want to drain off at the end to use for the ricotta. Since we did not have PH papers to test the acidity of the curds to know when they are done, we used the following test: place a small piece of curd in a glass with about 2 inches of water. Place in the microwave for 20 seconds. When the curd stretches and does not disintegrate or fall apart, then it is ready for stretching.

We did not stretch all the curd we made. I further drained half the curd in a strainer for about 3 hours, and then froze it. The curds freeze well and to stretch them, simply bring them to room temperature and follow the instructions below.

9. To stretch the curds, (after they have been drained, or brought to room temperature if they were frozen), heat some water to 170F in a medium sauce pan.

Prepare an ice water bath, which you will use to plunge the stretched mozzarella balls in.

Once the water reaches 170F, place the curds in the water and use 2 wooden spoons to form the curds into one mass. Cut off a chunk of curd the size you want your ball to be, and stretch it only 2 or 3 times. Stretch the curds apart and fold them back over themselves. It will be hot and you will burn your fingers a little. If it is not stretching to your liking, dip it back in the hot water for a few seconds. (Unfortunately, I do not have action shots of the stretching because Nick and Geoff had to feed their alcoholism at the bar on this particular night). Then shape it into a ball, similar to how you would shape a dinner roll. Make a ball shape that is smooth on the top, form a taut skin and wrap the curd underneath itself and pinch to secure together. Immediately plunge into your ice water bath. Once the cheese is done, you want to cool it as fast as possible. The longer it stays warm the tougher it will be.

10. To process the whey into ricotta, heat the whey to 200F. At this point, you could add some additional fresh milk to increase the yield. Measure out your vinegar, I used 1/4 cup here for just over a gallon of whey. Add the vinegar and give the mixture a good stir.Turn off the heat, cover the pot and allow the curds to form. Most of them should float to the top like foamy clouds. Let the mixture rest for about 30 minutes. Then ladle the curds into a cheese cloth lined colander. I then slowly drained the rest of the whey through the cheese cloth lined colander by carefully dumping the mixture in. You want to try not to disturb the other curds too much when you do this. Let this sit and drain for a few minutes, then wrap it up and hang it over a bowl to finish draining, as you did earlier with the mozzarella curds. This took about 3 hours.

At this point you can salt the cheese and store it in the fridge in an air tight container for 5 days. This yielded just under 1 cup of ricotta cheese.

And with this homemade ricotta cheese, we made some homemade ravioli with a mushroom sauce. Nick made the pasta dough,

and the filling was chopped and sauteed mushrooms and garlic, toasted pine nuts, a bit of parmigianno, salt, pepper, and egg.

It was quite tasty, and overall I was pleased with the results of this cheese making endeavor. Check out the Recipes to Rival blogroll to see how others fared in this challenge.