It took one bad pie to spark my curiosity about ricotta cheese; the “re-cooked” Italian classic most commonly used in desserts and baked pasta dishes. It was Easter Sunday, my mom was serving and tasting the ricotta pie – my rendition of a family recipe – and it hit me that the pie was grainy. Mealy, even.
It had to be the cheese, right? The eggs didn’t make it grainy, nor did the vanilla. It had to be the cheese.
Fate presented an old stack of magazines piling up on my kitchen table a few days later, and when I opened a 2005 copy of Cooking Light, I was drawn to an article about ricotta. The author wrote when purchasing ricotta, there’s a risk of a grainy texture (which I was all too familiar with) but making it at home was simple, and ensured a fresh, creamy consistency.
This I had to try.
The ingredients are simple:
- 1 gallon of milk (I used 2%, but any should be fine)
- 5 cups of buttermilk (I used full fat, as it was all I could find at my beloved Whole Foods)
- 1/2 teaspoon of fine sea salt
- Cheese cloth
Cut your cheese cloth into five pieces and run it through cool water. Squeeze out the cloth, and drape the cloth over a colander, covering it completely. Place the cloth covered colander in a mixing bowl.
Pour the milk and buttermilk into a large stockpot. If you have a candy thermometer, attach it to the edge of the pot. I used a meat thermometer, which worked fine – I just got a stiff arm from holding it in the pot. When attaching the thermometer (or checking the mixture periodically with another type of thermometer) make sure it extends at least two inches deep into the milk so you get an accurate reading.
Cook the milk over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer reads 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Stop stirring now, as thick curds will appear before your very eyes! (It looks like cottage cheese.) Reaching 170 degrees took about 25 minutes on my stove. I may have had the heat a little low – I was nervous about scorching the bottom of the pot.
After you stop stirring, keep the thermometer submerged in the milk, and when it reads 190, take the pot off the burner. The curds should be completely formed.
Using a strainer or slotted spoon, lift the curds out of the pot and place them into the cheese cloth. Remove as many of the curds as you can. You’ll notice the leftover liquid is practically clear!
Drain the curds in the cheese cloth over the colander for about five to 10 minutes. Then, gather the edges of the cheese cloth up around the curds and give it a squeeze; tie the edges together, forming a ball of cheese with the cloth around it. I used a rubber band to secure the edges together as well. Take the bundle and hang it from your kitchen faucet. The curds will take about 15 minutes to completely drain; you’ll notice whey (milky liquid) dripping from the bundle.
Remove the bundle from the faucet, open it up, and spoon the cheese into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt, stir gently with a fork. Take a taste, and relish in the fact that you just created the creamiest ricotta you’ll ever eat.
While the finished product should last about four days in the refrigerator, we devoured it in two. First, in the form of a creamy crabmeat manicotti; next, stuffed and baked in zucchini shells with herbs and panko breadcrumbs.
My confidence is up – I’m ready to try that pie again.