Turning Funky Milk into Homemade Ricotta Cheese

I’ve been fortunate to find a source for local, raw milk recently and my family picks up a gallon a week. Normally we go through it with no problem, but occasionally it starts to sour before we can use it. This week I found myself with three quarts of milk just starting to turn and I did not want it to go to waste. My friend Patti (who writes about candy at Candy Yum Yum) suggested that I make cottage cheese. I already had some cottage cheese in the fridge, but her suggestion got me thinking: What about ricotta cheese? Is that something I could do easily?

I found two recipes that looked doable. One, via a Bing search, over at Eggs on Sunday (just bookmarked!) and the other in my copy of Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses by Ricki Carroll. The recipe from Home Cheese Making called for citric acid, which I didn’t have, but the process seemed really simple. The recipe from Eggs on Sunday used lemon juice (but also cream, which I didn’t have). Because I was born with a gene that prevents me from following any recipe exactly, I kind of fiddled around with a combination of the two recipes.

It took me less than an hour to get to the “hanging” point, but much of this was just spent waiting for the milk to warm. This was really very easy. I think the biggest hurdle most people would face is that they don’t have cheesecloth on hand. I happened to have some, but I really think this could work in a fine sieve, too.

Ingredients:

  • 3 quarts whole milk (I used raw milk but whole pasteurized milk will be fine)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice

Process:

  1. Mix milk and salt in a pot. Cook over medium high heat, stirring every few minutes, until the milk reaches 185 degrees. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, bring the milk to a simmer but do not let it boil.)
  2. Stir in the lemon juice, turn the heat down to medium, and let sit for one minute. As soon as you stir in the lemon juice, you’ll see the milk start to curdle and separate into curds and whey.

    After adding the lemon juice

  3. Gently stir again and turn off the heat. Let sit without stirring (it’s hard not to keep checking it!) for ten minutes.

    After sitting for ten minutes

  4. While the pot sits, line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth. Place the colander in a bowl to catch the whey. The whey is the liquid byproduct of making the cheese, and you know I’m not going to let that go down the drain!
  5. Pour the contents of the pot into the colander. Pull opposite corners of the cheesecloth together and tie a knot. Repeat with the other corners, then hang this little bag-o-cheese on the handle of a wooden spoon suspended over the dirty pot to catch any drips. Allow to drain for a couple of hours, then transfer your homemade ricotta cheese to a glass container and refrigerate.

    All tied up

Any ricotta cheese that I’d buy in the store comes from across the ocean. Making my own allows me to use local ingredients and avoid the plastic container that store bought ricotta comes in. This was easy enough that I’d do it again, absolutely, and I’m surprised that I’ve made it this far in life without knowing that it’s possible to make ricotta cheese at home. Of course, mine didn’t turn out exactly like the ricotta I’d get in a store. This batch is actually firm enough to slice. If I wanted to use this to make lasagna or a cheesecake, I’d need to thin it out with heavy cream. Instead, we’re just slicing it and eating it as is – nobody’s complaining! In the future, I may try an entirely different method – one that uses buttermilk – that I spotted on Babette Feasts. Her homemade ricotta looks much more suitably textured than mine!

It's firm enough to slice

And now, about that whey. You can use the leftover whey in place of the liquid in just about any recipe that calls for milk (think: muffins, pancakes, bread). I used mine to make several batches of foccacia bread, and still have a bit more in the refrigerator. I’ve also heard of it being used to replace water for cooking rice and in place of milk in an au gratin potato recipe.

Check out pictures of the complete process below (if you’re reading this and don’t see pictures, click here to get to the full post).

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

 

 

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  • Tara ,

    Hi…I’ve made homemade ricotta with yogurt, full fat milk, salt and vinegar. It came out really nice.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Interesting! It seems like there are a lot of different variations on how to do it.

  • Robin ,

    I’m bookmarking this… but wish I’d seen it/you’d posted it a few days ago. lol. We also get 1 gal of raw milk every saturday and if there is any left on saturday it’s starting to turn sour. This morning I just dumped it in my smoothie but making cottage cheese/ricotta would have been fab – there was only 2 cups or so but… Thanks for the instructions for next time!

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Robin, it sounds like you’re on the same schedule we are. I pick up fresh milk on Saturdays, and anything left from the previous week is starting to turn. I’ve used it to make pudding in the past, but wanted to try something different – and this was SO easy.

  • It’s beautiful; I love that you can slice it!

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      I know – it’s totally not what I expected, but that’s okay!

  • I wonder how much sour milk gets tossed out that could be easily turned into ricotta cheese. Excellent repurposing.

  • Don’t forget, you can also use flour sack towels in place of cheesecloth – they can be washed and reused until they’re ready for the rag pile!

  • Susan ,

    Great idea!! I tend to buy smaller containers so that I don’t waste milk but larger containers are more economical and this would be a great way to use the excess.

  • I would have never considered making homemade ricotta cheese until reading this post. And I bet it tastes much better than the ricotta cheese you would buy in the store.

  • Sheryl ,

    Ricotta cheese is one of my favorite things to eat. Thanks for this recipe! I love your blog, with such great, actionable ideas. Keep up the great work.

  • maria ,

    I have some frozen milk (pasturized, whole), do you think i’d be able to defrost it and use for this recipe?

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Oh, wow. I have no idea. I can’t see why it wouldn’t, but I’ve not actually tried that.

    • Teri Sugg ,

      Yes, using thawed frozen milk should work just fine. I use frozen excess goats milk to make cheese and it works great.

  • Shyla ,

    I didn’t realize this – thanks for the bonus tip!

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      I know! I didn’t realize it, either until I started poking around.

  • That’s fantastic! Now I won’t have any qualms about buying too much milk. I usually freeze half just inc ase, but defrosted milk isn’t really that good for drinking anymore.. thanks for sharing! i did make yogurt cheese before, and this sounds quite similar!

    http://mummyicancook.blogspot.com/2011/01/homemade-cream-cheese.html

  • sarah henry ,

    Have rediscovered ricotta. Love it on rustic, whole grain bread with jam. Must give this a go.

  • Elise Johnston-Agar ,

    I love your site & feel the same about most things you write (& also am missing that recipe-following gene!)
    btw I’ve come across a few fermenting recipes that use whey including a ‘lacto-fermented’ ketchup …

  • julie ,

    You can also just set the soured raw milk out in a clean jar for a day til it thickens (clabbers) then hang/strain and you`ll have cream cheese, also tasty.

  • jan pelmulder ,

    When I was a kid on the ranch we didn’t have a way to refrigerate milk. After straining it was put in pans and kept in the cupboard. My mother would skim the cream off and do something to make the milk clabber. Wish I could remember what. What I do remember is cutting the clabbered milk into squares and then heating it. It separated into small curds like cottage cheese. We ate it like that with salt & pepper or added cream so it had the texture of store cottage cheese. Since I no longer have cows I don’t often have extra milk but your recipe sounds good so I’m going to make some.

  • Eric B. ,

    I would have called the cheese you made in this recipe paneer. I think of ricotta as cheese made from whey. R-i is the Italian version of the prefix re- and cotta means cooked, as in terracotta, for example, so ricotta means recooked, specifically heating the whey again after making regular cheese. If you make any kind of basic, normal cheese and then re-heat (re-cook) the whey to near boiling the proteins in the whey will precipitate out and can be strained through a very fine cloth, which gives you a spreadable cheese with the right consistency for filling cannoli, making ricotta pie, stuffing pasta, etc.

  • George Franke ,

    I tried making mozzarella last week for the first time. It came out like ricotta. A little bit firm, but the taste and texture was definitely ricotta. I asked Richi Carroll’s group what happened and they said it was probably the milk being pasturized at too high a temperature. Anyhow, like you I throw nothing away. So when my next try at mozzarella came out ok, I now had the fixings for Baked Macaroni. or Lasagna…just add the noodles and sauce, right? Well, I decided on baked ziti…and I tore up the ricotta and just added it willy-nilly to the cooked ziti. Slathered some sauce on it. Topped it with the mozzarella and baked covered 1 hour at 425 degrees. Well, it came out better than any catered tray I’ve bought. The point I’m making is the ricotta just melted…when I stirred it upon serving it melded with the mozzarella for a great taste. So…don’t sweat putting the firm ricotta into a baked dish, it melts down just fine.

    George

  • jonathan ,

    I got some bleu cheese culture from a site and use it when milk goes sour. i basically do the same thing but add the culture and let it age for about a month. Real natural cheese helps my digestion and tastes amazing.

  • Thanks for sharing! I made this today with raw milk that was about a month old. Plan on making lasagna tonight! YUM!!

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