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Ricotta

Everything you ever wanted to know about this simple cheese


Ricotta is known by most of us as that fluffy white cheese in our Lasagna and baking goodies .. but there is more to it than that


I never was thrilled with the prospect of making Ricotta until I had a chance to take a workshop with Giuseppe Licitra, President of the Consorzio Ricerca Filira Lattiero-Casearia (CoRFiLaC) in Ragusa, Sicily ... during this workshop we watched as they broke the curd for Ragusano cheese with a big stick (and none to kindly at that) ... As it turns out their intent is to drive out as much as 30% of the butterfat into the whey to be made into the richest tasting Ricotta I have ever tasted. The background behind this is that the final cheese (Ragusano) would not produce income for many months or years. The Ricotta that could be produced could be immediately sold thus producing an income for the farms within a few days.

Ricotta

Ricotta has been a traditional cheese of Italy for many centuries. It was originally a means to strip proteins from the whey following the primary cheese making process... Proteins that would have otherwise been lost in the whey.
This was especially true in some of the longer aged 'Pasta Filata' styles (stretched cheese) such as Caciocavallo or Provolone and even in Parma style cheese where

Ricotta is a heat and acid precipitated cheese that can be made from whole or skim milk. When made from a mixture of milk and whey it is called Ricotone.
Raw milk can be used for the production of ricotta cheese since the heat treatment during curd formation more than meets the heat requirements for pasteurization.

In the first step of the process either a live culture or an acid is added to the milk to lower the pH to 5.9-6.0. The mixture is then heated to 176-185F, for 15-30 minutes.

This heat treatment, combined with the effect of the acid causes the precipitation of the curd. Exposure to such a high heat results in denaturation of some of the whey proteins that would normally be lost with the whey. The resulting curd is composed of both casein and whey proteins, unlike a conventional curd which is almost all casein. The ricotta curd also differ from a conventional rennet/acid curd in that the ricotta curd is loosely bound and entraps air. This results in a curd that will float on the top of the cheese vat. Proper control of the pH and the level of agitation are necessary to ensure that the curd floats and does not sink. The collected curds are allowed to drain for 4-6 hours in a cool room and then ready for consumption.

Ricotone and Ricotta cheese are very high in moisture and contain most of the lactose from the milk. Therefore, the keeping quality is not very good. It may last 10 days at best.

Ricotta today can be made in a variable styles:

  • from whole milk
  • from whey (with or without added milk) .. this is usually called Ricottone
  • a drier version is made by extending the draining in the forms (One of the richest and most luxuriant versions comes from the Ragusano area of Sicily)
  • a very dry version (Ricotta Salata) made from extended draining and pressing under weight and followed by aging of several months or longer .. This can then become a table or grating cheese
  • Ricotta tastes and smells like the milk it is made from, so use the best and freshest dairy you can find. You can control the consistency of your cheese by the length of time you drain it
  • Richness can be increased by incorporating more cream in the Whole milk or Whey from your cheese making ... to the point that it will be almost like Mascarpone

 

Whey has been heated to 190F+ .. Ricotta has formed and is now rising to the surface .. here patience pays in good yield The curd can now be ladled to it's form ...
Where it will continue to drain ... the longer it is kept warm and draining the more dense the ricotta will be The whey has yielded it's harvest of Ricotta
Our new Italian cheese making friend Marco makes a batch of Ricotta from the whey left from his Goats milk Tomme ... ... followed by an offer to stay for lunch ... 30 minutes from vat to lunch ... it could never be fresher than that !
Just south of Bologna this whey from the current batch of Parmigiana ... ... is being checked for curdling by our friend Antonio The Ricotta is pre-drained in a large cloth lined Vat ... ... and then filled into the forms for the final draining









How to make this cheese :

Note: Ricotta uses no rennet in its production. Ignore the recipes that call for this. 

Ricotta from Whey

  1. Use whey directly from the cheese pot at the time of draining .. The fresher the better.
  2. Heat without agitating to 160° F .. at this point 5-12% of fresh milk may be added to improve the richness and yield.
  3. Continue heating to 170° F. Add 1/2 tsp. of salt per gallon of liquid and mix in quickly.
  4. Continue heating without agitation to 185° F and hold at this temp until the ricotta rises.
    Note: In the past people heated to just below boiling (200F) but this is not necessary nor will it be a problem if your whey heats well into the 190's.
  5. Mix 1/2 tsp. of citric acid per gallon of liquid. The citric acid should be dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Add quickly the pot and stir briskly for 5-10 seconds.
    Watch the curd forming small flakes and gradually larger curd masses.
    Add a bit more more citric acid solution if necessary.
    NOTE.. If too much acid is added, the curds will sink to the bottom and the cheese will not be sweet. The correct amount of acid will produce a clear separation of white curds and bright green whey.
  6. As the curds rise, use a perforated ladle to gently move them from the sides to the center of the pot. These clumps of curd will begin to consolidate floating on top of the liquid.
    Let the curds rest for 10-15 min. *** This is very important because this is the point where the final Ricotta quality is assured
  7. Ladle the curds gently into draining forms (No cheese cloth should be needed if you were patient in the previous step). Let the curds drain for 15 min up to several hours.
    For a fresh light ricotta, drain it for a short while (until the free whey drainage slows) and chill to below 50F. For a rich, dense and buttery texture allow it to drain for an extended period of time (several hours). before chilling overnight
    Move to a refrigerator or cold room. Consume within 10 days

Ricotta from Whole Milk

  1. Use whole milk .. The fresher the better
  2. Add 2 tsp of citric acid per gallon of liquid (dissolved in 1 cup cool water). Add 1/2 of this Citric Acid solution to the milk (save the rest of the citric acid). Stir briskly for 5-10 seconds.
  3. Add 1 tsp salt
  4. Heat the milk slowly on low to med stirring well to prevent scorching
  5. At 165-170F watch for small flakes forming in the milk and the separation of small curds.
    If after a few minutes you do not see the flakes forming, add more of the Citric acid until they form (do this in small 1 Tbsp increments to avoid over acid milk).
  6. Continue heating to 190-195F then turn the heat off. The thermal mass of the whey will hold at this temp for quite some time. The higher temp is used here because of the additional proteins found in whole milk vs whey.
  7. As the curds rise, use a perforated ladle to gently move them from the sides to the center of the pot. These clumps of curd will begin to consolidate floating on top of the liquid.
    Let the curds rest for 10-15 min.
    *** This is very important because this is the point where the final Ricotta quality is assured
  8. Ladle the curds gently into draining forms (No cheese cloth should be needed if you were patient in the previous step). Let the curds drain for 15 min up to several hours.
    For a fresh light ricotta, drain it for a short while (until the free whey drainage slows) and chill to below 50F. For a rich, dense and buttery texture allow it to drain for an extended period of time (several hours). before chilling overnight
    Move to a refrigerator or cold room. Consume within 10 days

Here is a fun link on making Whole milk Ricotta

Ricotta Salata ... a high salted dry form of Ricotta that can be aged
Following the gathering step in either of the above recipes:

The final result may be anywhere from a firm table cheese at 4-6 weeks or a very dry grating cheese at several months

Another link on making Ricotta Salata

  1. Let drain for an extended period of 24-36 hours
  2. After the first 6-8 hours place a weight on top of the cheese .. 2-4 lbs would be about right
  3. At the end of draining demold Ricotta onto a plate or bowl that will catch the extra whey. Every day for at least the first week sprinkle about 1 tsp. of salt over the outside of the cheese and wrap with plastic returning it to the refrigerator.
    Please pour off the whey that will begin to weep out of the salted cheese
    As the cheese starts to firm up and lose less whey you can salt less often until it is pretty firm (at least a week and a half if not two or three). Keep the mold under control by wiping with a light brine as it appears





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