Monday, June 6, 2011

Not Nonna's Ricotta Cheese

A couple of years ago, Mr. FC&G and I started to make our own cheese, using Ricki Carrol's Home Cheese Making as our guide (there's an affiliate link below).  Although we haven't yet progressed to hard cheeses like Cheddar, we enjoy making our own mozzarella when we can find milk that is both hormone-free and not ultra-pasteurized, a harder task around here than you might think it would be smack in the middle of the Midwest.

Anyway, when we mentioned this to Mr. FC&G's father, he told us that he remembered his Italian grandmother, Nonna, making her own ricotta from the whey left over from cheese-making.  Ricotta means "recooked," and it is a way to strip the last proteins from the whey in order to get every available bit of cheese.

My father-in-law said that Nonna would just reheat the whey to nearly boiling, then "throw in some vinegar" and get ricotta.  So, the next time we made mozzarella, we got the whey up to a good simmer, and introduced a tablespoon or so of cider vinegar.  A little ricotta formed, but not much, so we figured we were doing it wrong.

"He said, 'throw,'" Mr. FC&G said.  "Let's try that."

So, we took aim and threw the vinegar at the whey.  Nothing.

"Nonna was Italian; she surely said something special during cheese making," I ventured. 

"Mangia!" we yelled, the only Italian we knew.  Nothing.

"Perhaps Nonna was actually Greek," we guessed, yelling "Opa!" at the whey as we introduced the vinegar. 


"Maybe Nonna was really a sailor," I suggested.  And we swore heartily at the whey, which responded by producing nothing.

By now, we had a pot of really vinegary whey, and we gave up.  The next time out, we made Ricki Carroll's whole milk ricotta, and it worked perfectly.  We figure that ricotta really is a super-low-yield cheese, made even lower in yield by the fact that modern rennets and acids strip nearly all of the protein from the milk on the first go round.  We've made whole milk ricotta ever since, and we always think of Nonna.

Not Nonna's Whole Milk Ricotta
Up to 1 gallon whole milk (It doesn't matter if it is ultra-pasteurized, thank goodness.)
1 tsp. citric acid, dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Combine milk and dissolved citric acid, and heat until milk is between 185 and 195 degrees.  As it reaches its final temperature, you will see ricotta form.  The whey will be clear and yellowish.

Remove ricotta with a slotted spoon and drain in a fine sieve over a bowl until you reach desired consistency.
And think of Nonna while you do it.

The Analysis

Fast:  You can make a batch of ricotta in under 30 minutes.

Cheap:  Your ricotta will be cheaper than store-bought.  Use the leftover whey in any baked good that asks for water, such as bread. Your bread will have a crispy crust and a more robust flavor overall.  That's a double savings.

Good:  Personally, I will eat homemade ricotta when I won't eat store bought, so I obviously think it tastes better.

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