Last Chance Foods: Go Ahead, Make Ricotta at Home

Making cheese at home may seem like an endeavor for hardcore homesteaders, but chef Peter Berley said that making ricotta is simple. It only takes a few basic ingredients and fairly little time.

“It’s quicker than going to the store to get it — let’s put it that way,” said Berley, author of Fresh Food Fast and a private chef who teaches cooking classes at his home on the North Fork of Long Island. “Fresh ricotta is one of those foods that pays to make yourself because it’s so quick and the results are so rewarding.”

The creamy, fluffy cheese provides a fresh addition to midwinter cooking and only requires four basic ingredients: milk, cream, vinegar and salt. 

While traditional Italian ricotta is made with whey, which is a byproduct left over making  cheese, Berley recommends making using whole milk for the homemade version. “It’s much easier, you’ll get a much greater yield,” said Berley. “It’ll be creamier. It’s very similar to paneer.”

Be careful when purchasing whole milk for the ricotta making, however. “You want to get a milk that isn’t ultra-pasteurized,” said Berley.

Ultra-pasteurized milk has been heated at a higher temperature for longer shelf-life. It doesn’t produce enough curd when used for cheesemaking, though. “Best off to make it from pasteurized, or if you’re really lucky like I happen to be, there’s a farm two miles from me that has nine cows. It’s called Ty Llwyd, and they milk twice a day and I get fresh raw milk from them,” explained Berley, who added that it’s legal to purchase raw milk on the farm.

From there, it’s just a matter of combining everything in a big, clean pot and heating it up slowly over medium heat. For half a gallon of milk, that can take about 15 minutes.

(Photo: Straining ricotta curd from whey/Peter Berley)

Berley has two points of caution. First, “you don’t want to bring it to a boil,” he says. “You want to bring to where it just begins to sputter... as soon as it heaves, it’s done. And the curd will form by that time.”

Another important tip is to leave the milk alone while it heats. “You don’t want to stir the milk while it’s heating,” he said. “You’ll break up the curd. You’ll end up with a very low yield.”

So heat the milk, leave it alone, and you’re nearly done. “Strain off the milk and you have whey and you have curd,” said Berley. “And let the curd drain but for maybe three or four minutes —  that’s it, because you want it to be pretty wet. Transfer the curd to a bowl and refrigerate it. It’s going to firm up quite a bit in the cooling process.”

Berley also likes to skim the cream off of the whey and stir it back into the ricotta for maximum creaminess.

As for the whey that’s left over, he says to let it cool and save it. It’s full of nutrients and can be used as soup stock or for watering plants.

The ricotta, of course, has an even happier destination: Spread it on bread and garnish with olive oil, drizzle it with honey, fold it into a crepe, or mix it with roast vegetables. “I love it with stewed dried fruits right now,” says Berley. “With crushed, toasted hazelnuts. It’s fabulous. There’s a million uses.”

Get Berley’s no-fuss recipe for ricotta below.

Ricotta Cheese
by Peter Berley 

Makes 2-3 cups curd

  • ½ gallon whole milk 
  • 1 cup cream
  • 7 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until the mixture begins to simmer and curds form. Simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let rest for 15 minutes.

Strain the curds and refrigerate. Refrigerate the whey. When both are well chilled, stir the cream that has risen to the top of the whey back into the curds.

The whey can be used in soups or fed to your plants or pet.