Our local Co-op is so tiny that occasionally they don’t sell out their dairy and meat products before the expiration date. This is a lovely thing, because a few days before the expiration date the products are put on sale for half-off. Want to try that expensive cheese? How about the organic bacon? Or milk! Wait, what? Normally buying older milk would be down there on my crazy list with luring bunnies into my garden, but then it occurred to me that a $6 gallon of organic milk half-off is about the price of ricotta cheese.
Suffice it to say that experiment #1 was a failure: 1% milk was purchased instead of whole milk, and I neglected to account for the inherent increase in acidity in older milk when deciding how much vinegar to add. The result? A tasteless mass of “cheese product” that was even squeakier than cheese curds and was so densely packed together as to be most easily cut with a knife instead of scooped with a spoon. Like all good scientists however, instead of giving up, I hypothesized the above-mentioned problem areas and went about trying to make ricotta again. This time it was whole milk and I added only 3 tablespoons of white vinegar to the gallon of salted milk, which is how much it took for the curdling to commence. The whole process was, I hesitate to say “fun”, um, satisfying? But I will most likely be buying my ricotta pre-made from now on (until I learn how to make mozzarella and can actually make ricotta as the cheese by-product it’s supposed to be).
(about 3 cups)
1 gallon of milk (16 cups)
1 teaspoon salt (or less if you plan to use the ricotta for sweet things)
3 tablespoons of white vinegar or more if milk is fresh
Put the milk and salt into a large pot and slowly bring the milk to a simmer on medium heat. This will take a while. Also, be warned: when the milk first starts to simmer it will sort of explode out of the pot if you don’t stir it immediately and turn the heat down a little, so babysit the milk once it actually reaches a temperature where it’s started to steam. Once the milk has reached the simmer point add the vinegar 1 tablespoon at a time, giving the milk a stir after each one. Once the milk starts to form little dense curdles of cheese you can stop adding vinegar and just wait for the curdling to finish. Use a finely slotted spoon to fish out the curdled cheese and put it in a fine-mesh strainer or strainer lined with cheese cloth. Let the cheese sit for 10 minutes or so in the strainer before moving it to a bowl or storage container. The internets tell me that homemade ricotta lasts about 3 days in the fridge, but I made mine into pudding and lasagna almost immediately (after eating some with a spoon first).