Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dairy Week - Day 3: Whole Milk Ricotta

Homemade whole milk ricotta, spinach from the garden, onions, and proscuitto, all to be mixed into linguineI'm starting my foray into cheese-making with a few simple, fresh cheeses. First I'd like to cover the basics.

Cheese: A Blunt Introduction

Cheese is curdled dairy. "Curdling" is the coagulation of proteins. In cheese-making, heat, acid, and certain enzymes are used to coagulate the major protein in dairy, casein. Subjecting dairy to heat and acid or enzymes (or both) will separate the mixture into solid curds and liquid whey. The curds contain most of the protein, fat, and nutrients of the original dairy product. From an anthropological perspective, the principle benefit of cheese-making is that most of the energy and nutrients of the milk are solidified into a longer-lasting, easily-transported mass (that happens to taste amazing).

The whey, while mostly water, does retain a small part of the fat, protein, and nutrients, which brings us to today's project: ricotta.


Originally, ricotta cheese was made from the whey produced in the making of other cheeses. The word actually means "recooked". The most famous example is ricotta romana, which was once made from the whey of a hard ewe's-milk cheese called pecorino.
Later in the week I hope to have the whey from a few fresh cheeses, at which time I can try a traditional ricotta. In the meantime I wanted to try the ricotta procedure with whole milk. To my knowledge, all modern commercially-sold ricotta is made straight from whole or skimmed milk, which produces a richer cheese than the traditional whey.

Making Ricotta

The following recipe and procedure are paraphrased from the Culinary Institute of America's text Garde Manger, Third Edition. The only item required that is not in most homes is citric acid. Citric (also known as ascorbic) acid is sold in powder-form at brewing supply stores, and some grocery stores.

  • 960mL whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp citric acid
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Dissolve citric acid in water. Combine milk, acid solution, and salt.
  2. Heat mixture to 85°C. Stir regularly to prevent burning.
  3. Once 85°C is reached, turn off heat. Let mixture sit for ten minutes.
  4. Pour into colander lined with damp cheese cloth. Refrigerate for one to three hours.
The shocking lesson of the day was how much milk it takes to make this cheese. Using almost a litre of whole milk, I ended up with about 150g of cheese. That was after one hour of draining the curd. I suspect that if I had drained for the full three hours I would have had well under 100g.

I'm looking at other recipes in the Garde Manger that use a similar process (heat whole milk, add acid, let sit, drain) but use different acids and have much, much higher yields. The queso blanco recipe, for instance, calls for cider vinegar, and yields about eight times more grams of cheese output per gram of whole milk input. Maybe citric acid has less "coagulating power" than other acids. More research required, obviously.

Yield aside
, the finished product had an exceptionally clean, mild taste. While the curd formed the characteristic granular clumps, it had a very smooth mouthfeel. Not rich or creamy, really, but smooth.

1 comment:

  1. I've found some homemade ricotta recipes that call for lemon juice or buttermilk.
    how would those compare to those that call for citric acid?
    i would think more of the weaker acids would be added, but i'm not sure how the flavour would be affected?