Making ricotta cheese at home is easy to do anytime, but it’s especially frugal when you can salvage milk that’s nearing its ‘use by’ date. It will take about an hour, start to finish, to make a batch.
Use this freshly made ricotta cheese in this vegetarian zucchini lasagna recipe.
Normally we go through the milk we have on hand 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 didn’t want it to go to waste.
I started thinking: What about ricotta cheese? Is that something I could do easily? I found two ricotta cheese recipes that looked doable. One at Eggs on Sunday 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 for making ricotta cheese.
How to make ricotta cheese
This is another one of those recipes that’s incredibly simple once we get beyond the idea of buying it at the store. But making it at home allows us to cut out the plastic container that comes with store bought ricotta. It costs less than store bought ricotta. (I don’t know about where you live, but it’s crazy expensive here!) And making it at home can — as in this case — help you salvage milk that might be on its way out. That’s a lot of winning!
You’ll need to use whole milk for this ricotta cheese recipe — it’s the fat in the milk that will transform into the curds that will become cheese. If you can, use milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized. Better yet, use raw milk.
Basically, you’ll heat the milk with the salt until it simmers. Adding lemon juice to the heated milk will cause it to curdle. (It’s actually kind of fascinating!) Allow the curdled milk to sit untouched for ten minutes or so, then strain it through cheesecloth. The thickened curds will remain while the whey strains out.
It took me less than an hour to get to the straining point, but much of this was just spent waiting for the milk to warm. I think the biggest hurdle for most people would be 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.
Honestly, I’m surprised that I’ve made it this far in life without knowing that making ricotta cheese at home is so easy. Of course, mine didn’t turn out exactly like the ricotta I’d get in a store. This batch was firm enough to slice. To make a looser, creamier batch, just adjust the drain time, allowing some of the moisture in the cheese to remain.
Related: Make Your Own Kefir at Home
And now, about that leftover whey
You can use the leftover whey — liquid that remains after straining — 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. You can also use it to jump-start a batch of homemade sauerkraut.
Can you freeze ricotta cheese?
Yes, but. You absolutely can freeze ricotta cheese. This is a great way to keep it, whether you make your own or find a killer sale on your favorite brand. But. The texture of the ricotta cheese will be slightly altered by freezing.
If you’re using the ricotta in a lasagna recipe or as an ingredient, you likely won’t even notice. If you were to eat it plain, you might.
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Making Ricotta Cheese
Making ricotta cheese at home is easy to do anytime, but it's especially frugal when you can salvage milk that's getting ready to go off!
- 3 quarts whole milk (I used raw milk but whole pasteurized milk will be fine)
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 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.)
- 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.
- Gently stir again and turn off the heat. Let sit without stirring (it’s hard not to keep checking it!) for ten minutes.
- 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!
- 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.
I used raw milk but whole pasteurized milk will be fine. Just try to find milk that hasn't been *ultra-pasteurized.
This recipe results in roughly three cups of finished ricotta cheese.
Originally published in March 2011; this post has been updated.