Ricotta: The stuff you buy at the grocery store in those plastic containers to put in lasagna. It’s white, and never seems to have much flavor--to be honest, I always assumed it was needed in the lasagna merely as a thickening agent. But recently, the cheese gods begged me to see the light.
Ricotta can be (and should be) so much more than just a tasteless filler. It should be slathered on toast, topped with honey or fruit, stuffed it in a crepe, or my favorite—eaten warm straight from the cheese cloth. Heaven. Delicious heaven.
Outlined below is the process I recently learned. If you choose to move forward and take the plunge, please heed the following: resist the urge to turn up the heat once the mixture is in the pan. Resist. Believe me, I wanted to. I wanted to so bad. But this requires patience; it needs gentle heat to let these little beauties form. It will be worth the wait, I promise. Don’t break the ricotta’s heart. If you give it time and patience, it will blossom for you.
Equipment needed: cheesecloth, ladle, sieve or colander, candy thermometer
Mix the all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed, non-reactive pan. Heat the mixture on low to medium heat until the temperature reaches 165 degrees. Stir on a regular basis to prevent scorching. At 140 degrees you will see the difference in the cream. The thickness changes. This is when it starts to get exciting. This is good.
As the temperature reaches 165 degrees, you will notice the texture of the mixture changes. All of a sudden it goes from a creamy silky mixture, to a thicker mixture with these glorious creamy balls of goodness. Continue to stir regularly until the temperature reaches 185-190 degrees. At this point you should see curds. Real curds. Beautiful curds.
After you have reached the desired temperature, turn off the heat. One must let the curds rest. They’ve had a lot of changes in this short time. They need time to assimilate. Give them some space, but not too much – encourage them to gather together with your ladle. Let the curds stand in the pan for 10-15 minutes.
After the allotted time, remove the curds and place in cheesecloth (4 layers deep) that you have placed over a sieve or colander. Wrap into a nice little ball – tying the four corners of your cloth together. Allow it to drain for 15 minutes or so. For a more buttery texture, allow to drain for 30 minutes or longer. Place the finished product in an airtight container. Use within 10 days.
Note: Some recipes call for the use of citric acid in place of buttermilk - I was told that this ingredient makes the cheese making process ‘bomb-proof,’ however I used buttermilk because (1) it was recommended by a cheese making buddy and (2) the store I was at didn’t have citric acid.