ricotta revisited

There are some food products that are so easy to make. The kind of easy-to-make method that makes you wonder why you waited this long to do it yourself. Really.

If you’ve never made homemade ricotta cheese, today, just may be your turning point. The straight forward process involves heating milk, adding an acid, and allowing liquids to drain for about a half hour. Doesn’t that sound easy?  It’s the kind of revelation that will probably make you pass up the ricotta, in those little plastic cups, in the dairy section at the market.

Heat a half gallon of milk until it starts to simmer. Keep stirring the milk as it heats up. This will prevent any scorching in the bottom of the pan. Don’t trust yourself to determine a simmer? Use a food thermometer. When the heat is between about 165 and 180 degrees you have reached the correct stage. Now add 4 to 5 tablespoons of the     distilled vinegar. Stir in 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Remove the pan from the heat.

The acid in the vinegar causes the milk solids to coagulate. This makes the small curds for the ricotta cheese.

Place cheesecloth over a bowl and pour the heated milk through the cheese cloth. Allow the curds to drain for 30 minutes. After the liquids drain, remove the cheese cloth from the bowl. Spoon into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.

We like to have ricotta cheese sometimes as a dessert with fresh fruit. If it’s a main ingredient, paired with something else, you want the single flavors to stand out. That’s why we like to make it ourselves. If you are making this for a dessert, you can swap out the vinegar, and use fresh lemon juice.

You can add honey or agavae nectar. When it’s a dessert, or any time the lemon flavor works, go ahead and use lemon juice as the coagulant.

Another reason to make your own ricotta is, once again, to control the ingredients. Check the labels at your market. See if you can identify the cartons that are from dairies near you.

Here’s another idea for your strawberries. Serve the berries with the lemony ricotta mentioned above. A nice, light fruit and cheese course to end a dinner outside on a warm night. Last year, on the 4th of July, we had strawberries and blueberries, with ricotta, for our red-white-and-blue dessert. Top with mint leaves.

Make this with the kids. Add some basil and use the ricotta in a lasagna. Is it already Friday tomorrow? We are at the 20 day mark for blogathon 2013!

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