When cheese is made, the leftover whey is used to make ricotta. In general, to create cheese, live cultures (a fancy name for bacteria) are typically added to fresh milk. This starts a fermentation process that results in the milk separating into curds and whey. Depending on the type of cheese being made, the curds are then either pressed or stretched into cheddar, mozzarella, etc. So, I will say straight away that this isn’t technically the real deal, but it sure tastes like it! By simply using lemon juice or vinegar in place of bacteria, you can cause the milk to curdle and mimic a fresh ricotta quite easily.
Fresh ricotta is delightful spread on toasted baguette slices and topped with a drizzle of honey and a pinch of flaky sea salt. For a savory option, substitute olive oil for the honey and add a few drops of a syrupy balsamic vinegar. I have also enjoyed the ricotta on my favorite strawberry and spinach salad in addition to the traditional pasta applications. In place of cheesecloth for the straining portion of the recipe, I hit on a clever trick that I have used when making chicken stock as well. Cut a large square piece from an old t-shirt and use it in place of the cheesecloth. Not only is it sturdier and a better filter (especially helpful when straining stock), you can rinse, wash, and reuse as a rag or for future kitchen needs!
Yields about 2 cups.
- 6 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 kosher teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar (could substitute fresh lemon juice)
Line a large colander with a layer of cheesecloth (or, better yet, use an old, clean t-shirt from which you have cut a big square piece of material) and place it over a large bowl.
Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a rolling boil in a heavy pot, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove from heat, gently stir in the vinegar, and let stand without stirring for 30 minutes. The mixture will have separated into white curds and clear whey.
Pour the mixture into the lined colander, and let it drain for at least 1 hour. After an hour, you will have a tender, spreadable ricotta. After two hours, the mixture will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese.
Once you achieve the consistency you desire, enjoy immediately or cover and refrigerate; the ricotta will keep for approximately 3 days.