Here’s what you need: whole milk, fresh lemon juice, and salt. That’s it!
Interesting side note: I compared our homemade ricotta with store bought organic ricotta and was very surprised at how different they were. The store bought has a kind of pasty texture, and is a little gritty. The homemade stuff is more firmly curd textured, more creamy and fresh tasting, and doesn’t have any grittiness to it.
The process is simple. Heat milk and salt, add an acid to curdle it, then drain the whey from the curds.
The first step is to heat the milk. No thermometer is required, which might seem a little nerve wracking but it’s actually very easy. Use a large sturdy pot with a thick bottom (to avoid scorching) and heat the milk until it is just about to boil – but not quite. You’ll know it’s the right temperature when the milk gets all foamy and puffy and almost seems to be expanding in volume. Right when you start to wonder “Is this milk coming up higher in the pan? Why is it getting higher…is that an optical illusion, or am I crazy?” That’s when you remove the milk from the heat.
With the milk off the heat source, get out your lemon juice and slowly drizzle it across & around the whole surface of the hot milk. Then take your spoon and very gently stir the milk to incorporate the lemon juice. Don’t do any vigorous stirring, you really just want to do one gentle swirl to get the lemon juice dispersed throughout the liquid. Let the mixture sit for a minute or so and you will see tiny milk curds beginning to form. Like so (pic on left):
You can do another very gentle stir at this point. It’s hard to resist poking at those newly forming curds! They’ll continue to coagulate and after another minute they’ll look more like the above right picture. Beneath the white curd will be the whey – it’s a yellowish clear liquid. If it’s milky that means the curds haven’t fully separated from the whey. Wait another minute and if the whey is still milky put it back on the heat source until it’s back to that just below boiling point.
When the curds are well formed and the whey is clear yellow, skim the curds off with a slotted spoon. Look at that pretty steam!
Spoon curds directly into a strainer lined with cheese cloth. We folded ours so the cheese cloth was 4 layers thick.
Let the ricotta drain in the cheese cloth for 1-2 minutes for softer cheese, and 15-20 minutes for drier firmer curds. We let ours drain for 20 minutes while we went outside to play with the babies and were surprised by how firm it became during this time.
We thought the ricotta could have been a little more salty to fit our tastes, especially if you’re planning to use it in a savory dish. If you want to create a sweeter creamier ricotta, stir in 2 Tbsp of heavy cream at the end (after draining the curds). This would make it delicious as a spread on toast for breakfast.
Heat the milk & salt in a large pot until just below boiling. You’ll know it’s the right temperature when the milk starts to get foamy and appear to be expanding upward. Remove from heat. Drizzle the lemon juice slowly all over the surface of the milk. Give it one very gentle stir, then let sit for 2 minutes or so, as the curds separate from the whey. Spoon the curds into a colander lined with cheese cloth. Let drain for 2 minutes for moist ricotta, or 20 minutes for more dry ricotta. Stir in 2 Tbsp of heavy cream if you’d like a sweeter, more rich ricotta. Yield is about 2 cups of fresh ricotta. We’ve read other online reports of a 3 cup yield but definitely didn’t get that much. We maybe got 2.5 cups…but probably closer to 2.
- 1 gallon whole milk, pasteurized (that’s 16 cups)
- 2 tsp salt
- 6 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- optional, 2 Tbsp heavy cream (to make a sweeter, more rich ricotta)
Need more ideas? Here are our Top 10 Ricotta Recipes.