We've searched the United States high and low for a ricotta that tastes like the real, Italian stuff. Sadly, nothing we've found has even come close. It's difficult to even describe the difference to someone who hasn't had this wonderful whey cheese in Italy. Luckily, there's a way to try real ricotta no matter where you live: make it yourself.
The internet is full of ricotta cheese recipes, but most of them fall quite short of the traditional Italian process. Ironically, real ricotta is very simple to make and is quite within the capabilities of most home cooks.
The trickiest part of having the perfect ricotta experience is finding raw milk. Many American states have banned its sale for human consumption. However, there are several loopholes making it available in some way virtually everywhere in the US. This website is a good place to find a local source. You definitely can make ricotta with pasteurized milk (but not ultra-pasteurized!) and it will certainly be better than store bought, so if you can't find raw milk you should still give this recipe a shot!
Legal disclaimer: consume raw milk at your own risk!
Ricotta is made from whey, the remaining leftovers after making cheese. Therefore, in order to make ricotta you first have to make cheese. This recipe will guide you through the process of making Primo Sale, one of the simplest fresh cheeses. Feel free to try your hand at a different kind, what's important is that you end up with whey!
Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make this recipe here:
Yield will vary depending on the quality and type of milk. We ended up with about 1 lb. of ricotta.
For this recipe, you will need:
1.5 gallons (5.6 L) raw cow, sheep or goat milk (pasteurized will theoretically work but is not preferred, see above)
1/4 teaspoon (1.2 ml) liquid animal rennet (other types of rennet are available, such as tablets and vegetable rennet. Check the specific instructions of your chosen rennet to set the amount of milk you use)
5 teaspoons (25 ml) non-chlorinated water (check your grocery store for purified water)
A large stock pot
A deep tray with a wire rack for draining
Whisk, wooden spoon, and long knife
Cheese mold baskets (we recommend an assorted set like this)
First, set aside 25% of the milk for later. In this case, it comes to 6 cups (1.4 liters). Keep the milk covered at room temperature.
Pour the rest of the milk into a large pot over medium heat. Stir the milk occasionally and monitor its temperature with an instant read thermometer. You're aiming to reach an even temp of 98.6 degrees F (37 C).
While the milk heats up, stir the animal rennet into the non-chlorinated water in a small cup. When the milk hits the target temperature, add the rennet mix into the pot and stir well. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it rest for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, cheese will have formed on the milk's surface. Gently insert a long knife into the cheese and slice it into a grid pattern. We recommend watching the video above to see how this should be done. Let the pot rest a further 5 minutes.
Now it's time to "break the cagliata." Do so by gently passing a whisk through the cheese until the large pieces are broken up into a rough crumble. You don't want the pieces too fine or too large, we again recommend watching the video to see what the consistency should look like. Don't stress too much, though: this cheese is quite forgiving.
Place a large cheese basket (we recommend a square one) on a wire rack within a deep pan to catch whey drippings. Use another basket, or a small fine mesh strainer, to scoop the cheese out of the pot and transfer it into the drain basket. Gently press the cheese into the basket to squeeze as much whey as possible out. When all of the cheese has been transferred and pressed, pour the drained whey back into the pot.
We'll quickly take a detour to explain how to finish the Primo Sale cheese. Let the cheese naturally drain on the wire rack for about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the cheese from the basket, flip it upside down, and place it back in the basket. Gently press it again, and let it drain for another 60-90 minutes.
Combine 4 1/4 cups (1 liter) of water with 1/2 cup (150g) of salt in a large bowl. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Remove the cheese from the basket and place in the brine. Soak it for 30 minutes, then turn it over and soak a further 30 minutes. Remove from the brine and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Ok, back to the ricotta...
Remember that milk you set aside at the beginning? Stir it into the pot, along with 2 tsp. of salt. Place the pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Monitor the temperature again. As the milk approaches 185 degrees F (85 C), ricotta will form and float to the top! All you have to do now is skim it off and place in a new basket to drain. Be careful, as the milk will be hot this time!
You don't need to press the ricotta, just let it naturally drain on the wire rack for 5-10 minutes. You can flip it onto a plate for serving, or keep it in the basket on a dish to catch drippings. Store in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.