We have nuns here in Brandenburg. They hail from Malta, originally, which is near enough to Italy that they like the same kinds of food. Like ricotta cheese. Not the store boughten kind, either. The nuns make their own ricotta, fresh, whenever they want. “Oh, it’s easy!” they told me in their heavy accents. “You just warm the milk and add a little vinegar, and then maybe just a little bit more, and then it’s done!” Well, I wasn’t finding it so easy. My curds wouldn’t come at all, or coagulated into a dense, sticky, not ricotta-y mess. But, I figured, if the nuns could do it, I could do it, so I kept at it, feeding my many failures to the pigs. At last, I have it all worked out, so my ricotta comes every time! Here’s what you do:
First, you’ll need a gallon of milk. I hope your milk comes in glass jars. If it comes in plastic jugs, we maybe need to talk. You can make ricotta out of your boughten milk, but fresh-from-the-farm would be so much better, don’t you think? You can skim the cream off or use it whole. I usually use it whole, but if I didn’t have umpteen gallons of milk going through my kitchen every day, I’d probably save the cream for butter or coffee and use just the skim milk for cheese.
You’ll also need 1/4 cup of vinegar, but have a little more handy, just in case. Not too much; too much vinegar makes the curds clumpy and gooey.
All right! Pour the milk into your pot, put a thermometer in it, and heat it up to 200°. Make sure it doesn’t scald on the bottom. Our old electric flat-top range always burned the milk if I didn’t watch it closely and stir often, but our new gas range hasn’t burned a thing yet, no matter how often I get distracted. Since it takes a while to heat the milk, and I’m easily distracted, I’m really appreciating this feature of our new range.
Are we at 200° yet? Great! Go ahead and turn off the heat. Now, stirring constantly with up and down motions to draw it through, pour the vinegar slowly into the hot milk. You should see small curds developing.
If it still looks quite milky, add a tiny bit of extra vinegar, just a teaspoon at a time here. Give it a minute to work. We’re looking for a good, clear separation of curds and whey without going overboard.
See how the whey is kind of greenish now?
We’re going to let this sit for 10 minutes, so all the curds can rise to the top.
I use these ricotta cheese baskets to drain my curds. I usually have some on hand for shareholders, along with extra rennet, but I haven’t placed an order with the cheese supply in a while. We’ll fix that in a couple of weeks. If you don’t have one, you can probably use a square of muslin in a colander. Don’t use cheesecloth; the weave is too loose and your curds will go right through!
Just scoop your curds out of your pot and lay them into your basket or muslin to drain. Ten or fifteen minutes is usually just right. If you let them drain too long, the cheese is pretty dry.
Stir in a 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of salt and you’re done!
I like to eat it in the summer with some fresh, in-season peaches diced on top. The children like it with two tablespoons of sugar added along with a dash of vanilla extract. I scoop it into bowls like ice cream and put a dollop of strawberry jam on top. Brenna swears by drizzling a bit of honey on while it’s still warm. And although it is most commonly used to make lasagna, it’s a star player in all sorts of dishes, both savory and sweet.