Easy Ricotta (Ricotone) Cheese 101

Inspired by a visit to an Old Sturbridge Village (OSV), cheese-making demonstration, I decided, if they could produce beautiful wheels in a rustic, wood-floored cabin, without benefit of running water, central heat, modern appliances, encumbered by bonnets, long-sleeved dresses, aprons and an occasional chicken running through the open door, then maybe it was time I gave it a try. There’s little that intimidates me when it comes to cooking, but when I returned to my modern life, picturing myself wrapping, waxing, pressing, and aging cheese wheels – the important parts of making hard, aged cheese – seemed daunting.

Until I’m “ready” (Note to Self: find a good seminar!), I’m working my way up to aged-cheeses, by first making soft, “for immediate consumption” cheese including cottage and farmer, yogurt, yogurt cheese, sour cream, Crème fraîche , kefir cheese, ricotta and……well, there is no “and”. “And” should be mozzarella – the next step after ricotta, but I use ricotta in numerous recipes – Ricotta Gnocchi, Lemon Souffle Pancakes, “Ricotta Cheesecake”, “Breakfast Blintz”, “Calzones”, and “Ricotta Italian Christmas Cookies” – and I’ve had no sense of urgency to expand beyond ricotta.

All the recipes taste better with my home-made ricotta which I think is more than just psychological. There’s none of the chemical after-taste, and because I use whole fat, fresh-off-the-farm, grass-fed, organic milk, the ricotta is rich tasting – more satisfying. The most “difficult” part about home-made ricotta is deciding which recipe to make!

For simplicity’s sake, I bought Rickie’s Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit from Amazon which includes everything required – citric acid, flake salt, butter muslin and the all-important directions for making both ricotta and mozzarella. If it is no longer available at Amazon, New England Cheese also has kits available. Kit Warning: Wouldn’t you know it, in trying out the kit, I ran into a discrepancy between their directions and reality.

Rickie’s Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit instructions:

  1. heat the mixture to 195f,
  2. turning off the heat as soon as the curds and whey separate.

In reality, the curds (white lumps) and whey (greenish thin liquid) separate at about 175f. Of course, if I turned off the heat at 175f, then 195f would never be reached, and to a beginner like me, I felt a moment of panic. In looking through other recipes, I discovered that many suggest 175-185f as accurate for curd and whey separation. I’m speculating that Rickie’s Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit is taking extra precautions, making sure that the milk is heated to a pasteurization temperature – 195f, ensuring all the “bad” bacteria are killed, something confirmed by the Essentials of Food Science book.

I, personally, find ricotta heated to 195 to be rubberier. Rubber-like. Rubber-chewier. Well, you get the idea – curds cooked at a higher temperature are not as tender and creamy as curds cooked to 185f.

Also, the price of the kit is very expensive – around $25. Citric acid, cheese salt, and buttercloth (more densely woven than cheesecloth) – the primary components of the kit can be easily found at health-food stores in the bulk-food area.

Sharon’s Rickie’s Mozzarella and Ricotta Kit Recipe with Revisions

For every gallon of cold, fresh, and (grass-fed! pastured! organic! real!) milk add and stir:

  • 1 tsp citric acid
  • 1 tsp cheese salt

  1. Heat the milk to 185f
  2. Stir often, with a wooden spoon, to prevent scorching, ensuring curds don’t stick to the bottom; DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP – stir at LEAST every 5 minutes, making sure you’re scraping the bottom of the pan.

Look at your milk. Do you see distinct white curds and thinner greenish-hued liquid? Your curds and whey have separated. This is the “art” part about cheesemaking that takes a bit of practice.

Whether you decide to go ahead and heat your curds to 195f, or instead, turn the heat off at 185f, DO NOT AGITATE, STIR, MOVE, LIFT, CARRY or otherwise subject your curds to any movement FOR 10 MINUTES. Just let ‘em sit still. Walk away…….

For straining, I use my largest stainless steel dutch oven into which I insert a large butter-muslin lined stainless steel collander. Using butter-muslin is important as it is a finer, tighter weave than regular unbleached cheesecloth, which is too porous, allowing small curds to slip through.

After ladling/dumping the contents of the curds and whey into the butter-muslin lined colander, simply grab two adjacent corners in the right hand, then two in the left, and tie the ball of cheese over the pan, from which the stainless steel collander may be removed.

I have a convection oven mounted over my stove-top which has an open handle onto which I tie the butter-muslin. I could also tie the butter-muslin on my kitchen cabinet handles, except that if more than 1-gallon of milk is used to make the ricotta, the weight on my wooden door knobs is too heavy. I typically use 2-gallons of milk in one ricotta batch. Some people suspend a broom or 2×2, balanced on 5-gal buckets, onto which the butter-muslin cheese-ball is tied.

Draining the whey from the curds is a process by which you can control the density, dryness or creaminess according to the length of the time you drain the ricotta in a suspended square of butter muslin. Shorter periods of time – 4 to 6 hours result in a creamy, almost Mascarpone
texture, wonderful for tiramisus.

Longer draining, 6-12 hours, result in a drier texture for making a New York style cheesecake, or stuffing layers of Sunday-morning French toast. You may even decide you want a REALLY dry cheese, at which point, after the longer draining time, you may take your cheese ball, keeping it wrapped in the butter muslin, placing it into a sieve which is placed into a larger bowl or pan, and weigh the cheese down with a clean brick or large clean stone, pressing out moisture for another few hours until the desired dryness is reached.

Ricotta may be eaten plain, or as a tasty sandwich spread folding in herbs, garlic, chutneys or your favorite cranberry relish. Here are some additional pieces of information about ricotta and possible ways of using it:

  • Ricotta is a heat and acid (either using cultured buttermilk or citric acid) cheese that can be made from whole or skim milk using sheep, goat, cow or water buffalo milk.
  • When made from a mixture of milk and whey, it is called ricotone.
  • Raw milk can be used for the production of ricotta cheese since the heat treatment during curd formation more than meets the heat requirements for pasteurization.
  • Ricotone and “Ricotta”:ricottacheese are high-moisture cheeses which contain most of the milk lactose. This means they won’t keep very well, and need to be used within 10 days.
  • For a longer-life ricotta, make a drier version by extending the draining time, making a Ragusano cheese.
  • Use a cheese-press kit and make a very dry Ricotta Salata, which is aged for several months; primarily made from sheep milk, and is used as a grating cheese.
  • The type of milk used, will change the flavor of your ricotta. Sheep, goat, cow, or water-buffalo – common in Italy, rare in the United States – are all great choices!
  • If you want a richer, creamier tasting ricotta (great for my gnocchi recipe), simply add cream, one tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.