I love ricotta and use it a lot in cooking – to fill ravioli or spoon over warm vegetables, for example. I started making it when I was experimenting with young curd cheeses. Although it is often referred to as a cheese, ricotta is actually a by-product of cheese making. The whey that is drained off from the cheese curds is reheated to make ricotta – hence the name, which translates as ‘recooked’.
My recipe for ricotta, however, involves gently heating whole milk, then adding vinegar to encourage little curds to form. I’ve tried using buttermilk and lemon juice, but found vinegar gives better results. The quantity of vinegar is all-important: too little and the curds won’t form properly; too much and the end result will taste unpleasantly acidic.
Because this recipe is so simple, it is essential to use fine-quality ingredients. The best ricotta I have made used raw, unpasteurised milk, though this is hard to come by. Ricotta tends to spoil easily, so it needs to be used within a day or so of making.
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus draining time | Cooking time: 10 minutes
2¼ litres organic whole milk
40ml good-quality distilled white vinegar
Pour the milk into a large non-reactive pan, add a quarter of a teaspoon of sea salt and place over a medium heat. Allow the milk to heat up slowly, stirring from time to time.
When it is almost coming to the boil, ie when steam and small bubbles begin to appear on the surface, check the temperature with a thermometer; it should be 82C-85C. Remove from the heat, add the vinegar and stir gently. You will see curds starting to form. Continue to stir for one minute or so. Cover with a clean cloth and allow to sit for a couple of hours.
Once the ricotta has rested, line a colander with a large piece of dampened muslin and place over a larger bowl or pan. Spoon the ricotta into the colander and allow to drain for an hour or so.
To test whether the cheese is ready, gently lift the muslin up by the corners and twist lightly – the liquid should be slightly milky in colour. The ricotta is now ready. Transfer to a container, seal and store in the fridge until ready to use.