Who is this crazy girl, you’re thinking. First she tells us to make our own granola, now she’s telling us to make our own cheese. Does she think we don’t have lives to get on with?
I’m here to prove to you that making your own cheese is not as ludicrous as it sounds. There are several reasons for taking the plunge and making your own ricotta. Firstly, it takes minutes. Secondly, it is much tastier than anything you can buy in the shops. Supermarket ricotta is fine for cooking with, but is too watery and milky to really be savoured on its own; it’s a far cry from the beautiful fresh ricotta you can buy in Italy, which is fresh, tangy, almost crumbly. Thirdly, there’s something ridiculously satisfying about whipping up a batch of homemade cheese in the time it would take you to make some toast, using ingredients you probably already have in your fridge and if not are easily purchased from any corner shop.
This will give you a delicious bowl of homemade ricotta: thick, creamy, deliciously rich, it’s perfect for eating unadulterated on some good bread with a little olive oil, or for stirring into hot pasta, or topping with fresh fruit for a breakfast treat. You can add salt if you like, for a more savoury cheese, or keep it mild and milky for a morning recipe. I like to eat mine with fresh strawberries on toast, though it’s also delicious dolloped in thick clouds over a bowl of pasta with fresh pesto.
The method could hardly be simpler. You bring milk to the boil, add some yoghurt (full-fat is more luxurious, but low-fat also works) and a squeeze of lemon, and the mixture magically separates, Little Miss Muffet-style, into curds and whey. You strain it through a sieve lined with muslin, which catches the creamy curds. Don’t discard the whey, though – it makes fabulous bread or scones, useful in any recipe that would call for buttermilk. My favourite weekend treat is homemade ricotta served on soda bread made with the whey from the cheese – not only tasty but incredibly economical too!
Give this a go, and I guarantee you’ll be a convert. If you haven’t eaten or cooked with ricotta much before, this recipe might just make you realize its potential.
Homemade ricotta cheese (makes about 250g).
Put the milk in a large saucepan and heat gently until just about boiling. Add the yoghurt and a good squeeze of lemon juice, then stir. Lower the heat and heat gently for a minute or so, stirring, until the curds separate from the whey and the mixture turns lumpy. Turn off the heat.
Put a sieve lined with muslin or cheesecloth over a large bowl or jug, and pour the mixture into it. Allow to drain for about 30 minutes, until you have thick, creamy ricotta left in the sieve – if the liquid isn’t draining out, gather the corners of the muslin together and squeeze gently. Put the ricotta in a bowl and refrigerate, or eat immediately.
Don’t discard the leftover liquid – pour it back into the milk bottle and use for making bread or scones.