Ever have a leftover half gallon of milk sitting in your fridge that is about to go bad, but you know you’re just not going to get to all of it? While this doesn’t happen often, it does happen occasionally in my house for one reason or another. When it does, I use the milk as a perfect opportunity to make ricotta cheese at home.
Making ricotta cheese at home may sound daunting, but it’s actually a fun little project that doesn’t require any special enzymes like other cheese making methods, and can be done easily on the stove top. The reaction that transforms the milk into cheese simply involves a little heat and a little acid (in the form of lemon juice or vinegar) to make the milk form into small curds. Once these curds are strained out from the whey using cheese cloth, simply add some salt and refrigerate! The curds should set up into a nice, creamy cheese that is perfect as a side for fruit or to top some toast.
If your curds set up too hard or chewy, I like to add a little heavy cream to the curds to result in a more creamy, luxurious texture. Home-made ricotta can sometimes become tough as it sits and refrigerates, and the extra heavy cream serves as a little insurance policy to prevent the texture from becoming too chunky. The recipe down below doesn’t include this as a step because it usually works perfectly without it, but I wanted to throw this in as a helpful tip in case your results were less creamy than what you were hoping for!
I made the recipe below over the weekend that is based on the one published by Serious Eats (their ricotta recipe is linked here!). This used up my half gallon of milk perfectly and produced about 2 cups of ricotta cheese, which I’ve been enjoying for breakfast this week. It takes about an hour or so to make, so it’s definitely a little bit of a project, but a fun way to use up milk that would otherwise go bad and be thrown out!
Recipe down below, along with pictures!
Homemade Ricotta Cheese:
- ½ gallon of whole milk
- ¼ cup of lemon juice
- ¼ tsp salt
- Pour the milk into a large pot, and bring to 185F over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and using an instant-read thermometer to constantly monitor temperature.
- Once the milk is at 185F, turn off the heat and stir in lemon juice. After the lemon juice has been stirred in, continue to monitor the temperature of the milk for the next 20 minutes, ensuring that it stays between 175-185F for the whole 20 minutes. Do not stir for this period of time, as this will disrupt the formation of the curds.
- I start by keeping the heat off for a while so as to not overheat the milk. About half-way through as the temperature starts to get closer to 175F, I return the pot over very low heat to maintain the right temperature range.
- After the 20 minutes is up, there should be clear formation of curds (small chunks) within the milk mixture. Pour the milk mixture into a strainer lined with cheesecloth in the sink to begin to drain out the whey (yellowish, watery liquid that should have separated from the creamy, white curds).
- It’s helpful to use the corners of the cheesecloth to flip the draining ricotta and move it around slightly while it’s draining to be sure all of the whey is drained out. I let mine drain for about 5 minutes, until all of the noticeable whey was gone and all that remained were creamy, white curds.
- Transfer the drained ricotta to an air-tight container. Add salt, stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or until completely chilled) before enjoying!