By Jill L. Reed
The Orange County Register
If someone had told me a year ago that I would be making cheese at home, I would have smiled and said that while I love to cook, I would just never be that ambitious.
Now, all these months later, I have taken to keeping cheesecloth as a staple in my kitchen so I can cook up a batch of fresh ricotta anytime I want.
It takes less than an hour to go from milk and cream to fluffy cheese, so why not?
And this stuff — smooth, fluffy and rich — has me thinking I will never buy a tub of ricotta again.
There are various methods mentioned online for making fresh ricotta. After a few attempts and tweaks, this is the method that has yielded the most consistent results for me.
I like that the ingredients are just milk, cream, salt and lemon juice. There is nothing unfamiliar here. I do, however, make sure to get the best quality milk and cream I can find. I get the best results using organic, non-homogenized, cream-on-top milk.
The process is simple: A mixture of warm milk and cream gets a dose of acid, lemon juice in this case. It curdles into cheese in about five minutes. It’s fascinating to watch. And since the reaction is almost immediate, it’s a fun little science experiment to do with my son Ben, 3.
He is also a fan of experimenting with the cheese after it has been strained. He likes it on toast with a drizzle of honey, or a dollop of it spooned over slices of fresh pear or peach.
Me? I like it on warmed baguette with a slice or two of heirloom tomato. Maybe a couple of drops of nice balsamic vinegar on top if I am so inclined.
I have, after it sets up for a day or two, rolled little scoops of it in finely chopped herbs and served it on a salad of baby lettuces with tomatoes and some oil and vinegar for dressing. Or I will mix it into some pasta to add richness to an otherwise everyday plate of noodles.
It’s luscious mixed into scrambled eggs with some fresh herbs and decadent when spread onto a sandwich with thinly sliced prosciutto, tomatoes and arugula.
How you use it depends on how ambitious you want to be.
FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE
Yield: 1 to 2 cups
8 cups whole milk, best quality available
11/2 cups heavy cream, best quality available
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, double strained to remove seeds and pulp
Fine mesh strainer
Candy thermometer or similar
1. Combine milk, cream and salt in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir frequently to keep the mixture from scorching. Heat about 15 minutes until it reaches a temperature of 195 degrees (use a candy thermometer to check).
2. Once the milk mixture is at 195 degrees, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, stirring gently a couple of times until combined. Let stand 5-7 minutes until the milk mixture coagulates. The mixture should separate into soft curds and a slightly milky looking whey.
3. While the mixture coagulates, line a fine-mesh strainer with three layers of cheesecloth and place the strainer inside a larger bowl.
4. Carefully pour curds and whey into the cloth-lined strainer. Let mixture rest for about 20 minutes, occasionally pouring off the whey.
5. Gather up the cheese in the cloth and pour cheese into a bowl. Serve immediately or refrigerate 3-5 days.