Ricotta, meaning "recooked" in Italian, is traditionally made from the whey leftover from making cheese. The residual protein in the whey forms the curds with the addition of an acidic element and heat. The fresh ricotta here, however, is made using whole milk and cream, lemon juice and salt. The heat curdles the mixture, separating the curds and whey. When the curds are drained, the result is creamy ricotta that's unbeatable slathered still warm on bread with jam, crumbled over pasta or salads, or made into cheesecake.
"Ricotta is the perfect entry point to cheesemaking," says Sydney cheesemaker Kristen Allan. "It's the easiest fresh cheese to make."
- The milk you choose for making ricotta will effect the result. Allan prefers small-batch milk for its flavour and fat content, preferably homogenised, which doesn't separate into cream. The higher the fat content of the milk, the greater the protein, yielding creamier curds. Some of Allan's preferred brands include The Pines and Barambah Organics.
- Ricotta baskets are available from cheesemaking suppliers such as Cheese Links.
HOW TO MAKE RICOTTA STEP-BY-STEP
1 Fill a large saucepan with water to about 1cm deep; this prevents the milk from scalding. Combine 4 litres of homogenised milk with 300ml pouring cream and add to pan. The extra cream increases the fat content to make the curds extra creamy.
2 Add 120ml freshly squeezed lemon juice and 2 tbsp salt, and stir the mixture gently to combine. Lime juice (used to make paneer), apple cider vinegar or buttermilk can also be used as the acidic element in place of lemon juice.
3 Place the pan over low heat and heat slowly, without stirring, until it reaches 90°C on a thermometer (about 1.5 hours). At around 80°C curds will form on the top. Resist the urge to stir - this will cause the curds to release more whey, making the texture chalky. A low heat is best to achieve nice soft curds with moisture in the ricotta.
4 Once the curds have formed, remove the pan from the heat and stand for 10 minutes for curds to settle. They will still float on the surface during this time. If you notice at 90°C that the milk hasn't separated or curdled enough, leave the pan on the heat and add more lemon juice, a tablespoonful at a time, until you can clearly see the separation of curds and whey. Don't let the mixture exceed 95°C.
5 Carefully scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon - do not pour - into a large ricotta basket or a muslin-lined colander. Stand the basket over the pan for 15 minutes to drain excess whey and reserve the whey (see What to do with the whey).
6 Ricotta can stand at room temperature for up to an hour if you want to serve it warm and fresh. Otherwise store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Ricotta can also be stored in the basket covered; the longer it's left in the basket, the firmer it will become. Fresh ricotta will keep for 10 days to two weeks refrigerated.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE WHEY
Don't throw away the whey after making ricotta - it can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen, and it has many uses. Allan suggests using it in place of water when baking - try it in cheese crackers, flatbread, bread and muffins. She also cooks pasta in whey and serves it scattered with fresh ricotta and olive oil. It's great for braising and marinating meat, can be used in place of stock in soups or curries, and forms a caramel when heated slowly at a low temperature for a few hours.
To find out more about Allan's cheesemaking or her workshops, visit kristenallancheesemaker.com.