Authentic Ricotta

Authentic Ricotta

Mmm ricotta ready for ravioli or lasagna or fill-in-the-blank pasta dish: your ricotta plus nutmeg, handfuls of chopped fresh herbs, salt & pepper, and a couple eggs.

What an incredible cheese ricotta is – the classic farmstead waste-not want-not, using the proteins from the whey left from the preparation of one cheese to yield another fresh cheese.  Ricotta needs to be used or frozen within about a week, unless you nurture it along to a Ricotta Salata, a thoroughly drained, pressed, and aged cheese.

Contrary to what many recipes say, you do not need to use fresh whey and in fact, as whey ages it acidifies which is a good thing for making ricotta!

Now, in our era of “plenty,” ricotta is often made with whole milk rather than the whey.  This gives a greater yield and would have been an unthinkable luxury in the frugal times that ricotta was first made from the whey left-over from Pecorino Romano.  It’s perfectly fine but I find the texture is different – it is thicker and creamier, where the authentic ricotta made from whey is lighter and fluffier, like little clouds.  Both are good, but I prefer cooking with and eating the clouds.

Whey (whatever quantity you have)

¼ cup vinegar per gallon of whey or if using whey 2 plus days old, you may not need any vinegar

Slowly bring your whey to a goal temperature of 200 degrees minimum.  

Hold at this higher temp until the ricotta rises to the top.  The surface of the whey should be completely white.

At this point use your judgement as to whether your whey needs the vinegar.  If you are not seeing white flakes separating out of the whey, add the vinegar and stir thoroughly.  Watch the texture of the surface combine into curds, if needed adding more of whichever acid you are using bit by bit.  You want to clearly see curds and whey here, but too much acid and the curds will sink.  (Still usable, just not ideal.)

Gently corral the curds to the middle top of the pot, and then wait about 15 minutes for them to bind together.

If you’ve been successful at getting them corralled and holding together, you can ladle them out into cheese molds (the basket-weave ones are traditional and $9.95 for 12 at  If they are not binding together, instead use cheesecloth over a colander as you did when you made chevre.  Drain to the texture you prefer – creamy, maybe 30 minutes – more dense, hours.

And you’re done!  Remember to use within 10 days, or freeze it to bring out in the middle of winter when there’s no fresh milk.


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