When it comes to making cheese at home, ricotta is the best place for a novice to start. Sitting firmly on the “easy enough” end of the difficulty spectrum, the only ingredients you need to get started are milk and lemon juice, along with a heavy-based pot, some cheese cloth or a tea towel, a bowl, a colander, and the self-restraint to let the ricotta cool in the fridge before devouring it (a quality I do not possess). Whether I’m loading it onto toast and drizzling with honey, blending with basil for a ravioli filling, or let’s be real, eating it straight from the container, the ricotta I make at home always tastes a little fresher and creamier than the store-bought variety, and has the satisfying flavour of smugness to boot.
While milk and lemon juice work just fine and yield a lovely ricotta, lately I’ve been tinkering with a recipe that adds buttermilk and cream to the mix, resulting in an intensely rich and gratuitously indulgent cheese with a pleasing tangy kick (but as luxe optional extras, they can be left out).
To make the ricotta, grab your pot and pour in litre of full-cream milk, ¾ of a cup of buttermilk, 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and simmer on a medium heat. Some recipes will insist that the milk needs to be heated to a certain temperature, but as using a thermometer is the sort of palaver I can do without in the kitchen, I tend to go by time/sight on this one. After 25 minutes or so the lovely creamy curds will have separated from the whey, so take the pot off the heat. Using a slotted spoon, ladle the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth or a tea towel then leave in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours, or until the ricotta reaches your preferred consistency and texture. Once it’s nice and firm you can transfer to an airtight container, where it will keep for 3-4 days (full disclosure: as my ricotta is lucky to last more than a day, I can’t 100% vouch for this timeframe).
There will be quite a bit of whey leftover, both in the draining bowl and in the pot, but don’t tip it down the sink as it has loads of clever uses – stay tuned for a whey-related post, coming soon!