Have any of y’all missed me? Holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s), illness (a bout of cold/flu), work, and other such obligations and vagaries of life have kept me tending to things other than this blog.
Anyway, several months ago, frustrated by the ever-rising cost of good-quality ricotta cheese (which I often like to use in lasagnas and stuffed shells, as well as calzones), I idly Googled “ricotta cheese recipe” and came across several, three of which appealed to me:
As Wikipedia tells us:
Ricotta (Italian pronunciation: [riˈkɔtta]) is an Italian whey cheese made from sheep (or cow, goat, or buffalo) milk whey left over from the production of cheese.
Like other whey cheeses, it is made by coagulating the proteins that remain after the casein has been used to make cheese, notably albumin and globulin. Thus, ricotta can be eaten by persons with casein intolerance.
Ricotta (literally meaning “recooked”) uses whey, the liquid that remains after straining curds when making cheese. Most of the milk protein (especially casein) is removed when cheese is made, but some protein remains in the whey, mostly albumin. This remaining protein can be harvested if the whey is first allowed to become more acidic by additional fermentation (by letting it sit for 12–24 hours at room temperature). Then the acidified whey is heated to near boiling. The combination of low pH and high temperature denatures the protein and causes it to precipitate out, forming a fine curd. Once cooled, the curd is separated by passing through a fine cloth.
Ricotta curds are creamy white in appearance, slightly sweet in taste, and contain around 13% fat. In this form, it is somewhat similar in texture to some cottage cheese variants, though considerably lighter. It is highly perishable. Ricotta comes in other forms as well…
Made with the leftover whey from other cheeses, ricotta is not the same as paneer, which, as Wikipedia explains:
Paneer (Hindi: पनीर panīr; Urdu: پنير from Persian: پنير panir) is a fresh cheese common in South Asian cuisine. It is of Indian Subcontinent origin often referred in the Vedas dating back to 6000 BC. In eastern parts of Indian Subcontinent, it is generally called Chhena. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice, vinegar, or any other food acids.
To prepare paneer, food acid (usually lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid or yogurt) is added to hot milk to separate the curds from the whey. The curds are drained in muslin or cheesecloth and the excess water is pressed out. The resulting paneer is dipped in chilled water for 2–3 hours to give it a good texture and appearance.
From this point, the preparation of paneer diverges based on its use and regional variation.
In most cuisines, the curds are wrapped in cloth and placed under a heavy weight, such as a stone slab, for 2–3 hours, and then cut into cubes for use in curries. Pressing for a shorter time (approximately 20 minutes) results in a softer, fluffier cheese.
In Eastern Indian and Bangladeshi cuisines, the curds are beaten or kneaded by hand into a dough-like consistency called ছানা sana in Assamese, ছানা chhana in Bengali, or େଛନା chhena in Oriya, Maithili & Bihari. In these regions, sana/chhana/chhena is distinguished from ponir, a salty semi-hard cheese with a sharper flavor and high salt content. Hard ponir is typically eaten in slices at teatime with biscuits or various types of bread, or deep-fried in a light batter. In Nepal, Paneer sekwa is a very popular item.
In the area surrounding the Gujarati city of Surat, surti paneer is made by draining the curds and ripening them in whey for 12 to 36 hours.
So you see, since I didn’t use the leftover whey from other cheeses, but instead added an acid to heated milk and cream, what I made wasn’t technically ricotta, but was more similar to a soft paneer.
I just wanted to make that clear, as the Cheese Police get quite persnickety on this point, and I certainly don’t want to incur anyone’s ire. 😉
But while I technically made a kind of paneer, I used it as I would ricotta. 🙂
I also honored the thriftiness behind the idea of ricotta cheese by using milk that was at or near the end of its freshness date and might otherwise have gone to waste. This could also be an awesome use for milk that’s reduced-for-quick sale at your grocery, which would make this cheese even more affordable.
It’s incredibly easy to make this ricotta-like cheese at home. All you need is milk, cream or evaporated milk (I used evaporated milk), a candy/deep fry thermometer, bit of salt, a food acid (lemon juice or vinegar), a colander, a saucepan, and cheese cloth or muslin. Once you’ve heated the milk (which doesn’t take all that long), almost all of the time is inactive — let the mixture sit, then let it sit and drain wrapped in a cloth in a colander.
You can control the fat content of the cheese based on the fat content of the milk and evaporated milk (or cream) you use. I had some whole milk leftover from holiday baking for Thanksgiving, so I used a combination of whole milk, 1% milk, and skim evaporated milk.
While the resulting cheese can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, I think that cheese made with the lemon juice might well be slightly better-suited to sweet dishes (‘though mine was absolutely delicious in the cheese lasagna I made with it) and that made with vinegar to savory. I would imagine that the flavor of the vinegar used — for example, apple cider, white vinegar, or red wine vinegar might yield a slightly different, yet equally delicious, subtly-flavored cheese.
The leftover “whey” is simply a somewhat cloudy liquid. I have absolutely no idea what one might be able to do it with it, so I just poured it down the kitchen drain. If you have any ideas on a proper use for it, I’d be interested to know.
So the next time you want to make something using ricotta — even if it’s just to spread onto bread — give this recipe a go. You will not believe how YUMMY something so EASY can be!
Just know that the Cheese Police will be watching you! 😉
Missie’s Homemade “Ricotta” Cheese (Yields approximately 2 cups)
- 1/2 gallon (8 cups) milk (whole, 2%, 1%, skim, or a combination thereof)*
- 1 cup evaporated milk (2%, fat-free, or whole evaporated milk)*
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons food acid (lemon juice or vinegar)
*NOTE: I would imagine that 7 1/2 cups of milk and 1 1/2 cups of evaporated milk (a 12 ounce can) would work equally well.
1. In a large saucepan, combine milk and evaporated milk. Heat over medium heat, stirring to prevent scorching, to 180 – 185F (you are almost scalding the milk).
2. Remove from heat. Stir in salt and lemon juice or vinegar. The milk/cream mixture will curdle. Let it sit for a while (an hour or so). Go read a book, work in your garden, watch part of a movie, do a bit of work, take a bubble bath, whatever you like.
3. Line a colander with the cheesecloth (I folded the cheesecloth in half so there was a double-layer of cloth). (I placed my colander in a large bowl and placed it all in the kitchen sink.) Carefully ladle/pour the curdled mixture into the colander and let it drain. (I wanted a thick consistency to use in lasagna, so I let it drain for 2 or 3 hours.)
4. Wrap in the cloth and gently squeeze out any remaining moisture. Use as desired. Refrigerate any leftover.