i finally made ricotta. now that i've done it i feel silly for taking so long. it's super easy, and it makes a ton-- one gallon of milk made almost two pounds of cheese, which is way cheaper than buying ricotta by the 15oz container.
this recipe was from ricki carroll's book, home cheese making. (it's a good starter book, though i've heard from several "in the know" sources that there are better books out there. i'll have to find out titles and post here.) the recipe was good, but not great. i read a lot of recipes before making this one, and will probably try one of those next time. most variations were in the acid used to start the curd and whey separation (lemon juice, buttermilk), and in the draining time. this one drained for 30 minutes, and i found it rather dry. i was using half to make a lasagna, so the texture wasn't critical, and the other half to try a ricotta salata (a firm, aged, salted ricotta). presumably starting the ricotta salata with a dry initial ricotta isn't a bad thing. (only a couple of weeks to go before i see if that attempt was successful!)
the cheese is only as tasty as the milk you start with, so make sure to buy high-quality, whole organic milk. also, ultra-pasteurization is too high a heat process for successful cheese making, so buy only pasteurized rather than "ultra."
whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
1 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
1 tsp cheese salt, optional (i used kosher salt. do not use iodized table salt)
1-2 Tbsp heavy cream, optional
cheesecloth or butter muslin
pour milk in a heavy-bottom pot, big enough to hold the entire gallon. add the citric acid solution and salt (optional) to the milk and mix thoroughly.
heat the milk over low to medium-low heat to 185-195 degrees (do not boil), stirring often to prevent scorching. i started over low heat and incrementally raised the heat until the thermometer read 185. it took close to an hour because i was being ultra careful. i'm sure after another try or two i'll know better where to set the heat to easily reach 185 without risking overheating.
when the curds have separated from the whey it will look like this. the whey is relatively clear and yellow, not milky. the curds won't be especially thick throughout the pot. when separated, turn off the heat and allow to set, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.
line a colander with a single layer of cheesecloth or butter muslin and set it over a bowl to catch the whey. carefully ladle the curds into the lined colander (don't pour). tie the corners of the cloth together to form a hanging bag for draining. hang and drain 20-30 minutes (i'll drain less next time for a creamier texture). i hung the bag from the kitchen faucet to drain.
unwrap, et voila! cheese! stir in the optional cream for a creamier consistency. this is ready to eat immediately, or will last in a container for 1-2 weeks in the fridge.
ricotta is traditionally made from leftover whey, but only the whey from a rennet cheese rather than an acid cheese like this one. so, look for other uses for the whey. i've heard it's good for soaking dried beans to take out some of the gas factor. also, you can drink it (tangy and nutritious!), use it in baking, feed it to your chickens...
anyone with other ideas for what to do with the leftover whey, please leave a comment!