Thursday, September 8, 2011

Homemade Ricotta Trials

ricotta three ways
Fresh, soft cheeses are so fitting for the warm summer months. 
Rich, creamy mozzarella and burrata sing with bright, acidic heirloom tomatoes and basil. Marscarpone marries with in-season strawberries and reduced balsamic vinegar. And ricotta, oh ricotta, how I love you! Fresh ricotta atop pasta with summer squash & corn, ricotta drizzled with honey, ricotta in pancakes...the possibilities are truly endless.
components of homemade ricotta; almost all organic!
The problem with store-bought ricotta however, even the pricier brands is a bland and flavorless taste across the board. It does not compare to the fresh variety.
The Italian word, ricotta translates to re-cooked wherein the whey from other cheese-making was re-cooked on high heat to form the curds that are ricotta. Homemade ricotta typically consists of 3-4 main ingredients: whole milk, heavy cream, salt and an acid.
The acid can be lemon juice, white wine vinegar or buttermilk.
acid #1: lemon juice
acid #2: white wine vinegar
acid #3: buttermilk
In an effort to establish the subtleties of flavor between the acids, I decided to make all 3 variations side by side. Each recipe would yield 1 cup each.
When making any cheese at home, be sure ALL utensils are sterilized and use organic ingredients wherever possible. The finished cheese tastes a lot like the milk used so make it as fresh as you can!

First, lemon juice.
Combine 3 cups whole milk, 1 cup heavy cream, 1.5 tsp. sea salt into a heavy bottomed pan. Heat to 185 degrees. Remove from heat, stir in 3 tbsp. lemon juice and allow curds to form. Once curds form, drain curds and whey into cheesecloth lined strainer. The longer the drain, the denser the ricotta will be. 
The lemon juice trial resulted in a creamy, liquid mixture with very small curds.

Next, white wine vinegar.
Combine 2 cups whole milk, 1 cup heavy cream and .5 tsp. sea salt into a heavy bottom pan and repeat the process above. This time however add 1.5 tbsp. good white wine vinegar after removing the hot dairy from the heat. Again allow curds to form and again drain over cheesecloth.
The vinegar trial resulted in a slightly thicker mixture with larger curds than the lemon juice

Last, buttermilk.
Combine 4 cups whole milk and 1 cup buttermilk into a heavy bottom pan. There is no salt or acid to add in this recipe since the buttermilk adds its own salt and acid. Simply heat the dairy mixture to 175 degrees, stirring occasionally and allow curds to form. Again drain over cheesecloth.
The buttermilk trial resulted in the largest curds of the three, resembling cottage cheese upon initial drainage.

The results of the 3 ricottas were wildly different in texture and flavor.
lemon juice
The lemon one was by far the creamiest, though it drained for the longest. It even had a hint of lemon essence to it. This would be best eaten plain, or drizzled with honey or olive oil and sea salt.
white wine vinegar
The vinegar one was only slightly denser in texture but still creamy and piquant to the taste. This would be best atop a pasta with zucchini and corn.
The buttermilk one was the most dense, resembling almost a crumbly feta-like quality. Even though this one drained for the least amount of time, it had the toughest structure and least flavor. This could work well as a ravioli or lasagna filling or in lemon-ricotta pancakes...ricotta testings to follow!

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