Since I returned from southern Italy in February, I’ve longed for really good ricotta cheese. The supermarket stuff simply doesn’t compare to the ultra-fresh, velvety ricotta made from the whey left over from buffalo-milk mozzarella production. All over Campania, stellar ricotta appears in cakes, tucked inside ravioli, spread atop pizzas: it is ubiquitous and delicious. I quickly found a favorite way to eat it for breakfast: with honey, slathered on thick-sliced bread, with a little bit of proscuitto or coppa on the side (see right; the ricotta is nestled in its own little plastic cheese-mold). Beats the hell out of strawberry Pop-Tarts, doesn’t it?
Alas, I can’t seem to get my hands on any top-quality ricotta here at home. Blog poster Candice suggested months ago that I try making it myself (here’s the record of her ricotta efforts), and I recently saw a ricotta recipe in Emeril’s new From Farm to Table cookbook. So I finally took the plunge into cheesemaking. (Note to self: what in the hell took so long?)
Recipes for ricotta litter the web; it’s not a complicated or drawn-out endeavor. Here’s the process in a nutshell:
- Heat 1/2 gallon Smith’s Creamery milk to 180 degrees in a non-reactive pan. (Add a little heavy cream for a richer end product.)
- Add a souring agent (vinegar, lemon juice, citric acid–what Emeril’s cookbook calls for–or tartaric acid will work). I used vinegar.
- Add 1/4 tsp salt.
- Stir once or twice, and wait for curds to form.
- Gently ladle curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander.
- Allow curds to drain about 2 hours.
- Transfer ricotta into an airtight container and store in refrigerator.
So I did exactly as described above, and it was awful. Dump-in-the-trash awful. Apologize to the Smiths’ hardworking cows awful. The curds were beyond rubbery–they were downright tough. Unpleasantly chewy, more reminescent of rubber bands than soft, melting cheese. I don’t know if the vinegar was a bad choice, if I used too much, or if I stirred too long. Blech. The plastic tubs of Polly-O at Wal-Mart tasted better than my experimental cheese.
Live and learn. I won’t be rushing off to any more cheese experiments until I can do a bit more research on texture. I need to figure out why I ended up with recycled tire shreds instead of velvety goodness. Until then, it’s storebought for me. I’ll stick to homebaked bread, and leave the cheesemaking to experts.