For a while now, I had been meaning to make my own ricotta because I keep reading about how easy it is, and how superior home made ricotta is compared to the store-bought stuff.
Now, technically, this is not true ricotta, as ricotta is actually made from the whey that's left over at the end of the cheese making process. Really, this is more like a paneer or queso fresco, but it tastes and looks like a ricotta, and can therefore be used in any recipe that call for this cheese, whether the application is sweet or savory.
I read a lot of recipes for home made ricotta, and found that vinegar, lemon juice, and animal rennet, when combined with whole milk and heat, can all create the desired curds. Some people claim that lemon juice, while effective, can lend the ricotta an acidic taste. Surprisingly, vinegar is less noticeable than lemon, and unsurprisingly, rennet makes for the best results.
Because rennet is not easy to find, I went with the vinegar option, and because I'm lazy, I microwaved the milk rather than stirring it forever in a pot on the stove. I mean, heating milk on the stove is tedious, there is almost always a hard to clean up boil-over, and the milk usually scorches on the bottom of the pot, which is also difficult to clean up. A microwave, however, leaves you with a nice, easily cleaned glass bowl.
You can make a lower-fat ricotta by using a reduced fat milk, but it's generally not recommended, as the resulting product will be rather anemic in taste and texture. And, of, course, you want to find the best possible milk.
I used my ricotta in some ricotta and Swiss chard dumplings, but you could also make lasagne, a ravioli filling, cheesecake, or anything your heart desires.
9 cups whole milk
9 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt (use more if you want a salty product, and less if you want to use this in a sweet recipe)
Place a colander over a bowl, and line it with 4 layers of cheesecloth or two layers of food-safe paper towels.
Place the milk, vinegar, and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl, and microwave until the curds have separated from the rest of the milk. I started with 5 minutes and continued to heat the milk in 1 minute increments until the milk separated; timing will differ based on the microwave.
The recipes I consulted suggested heating the milk anywhere between 165 and 200 degrees, so start taking the milk's temperature when it begins to separate, and continue to take it periodically until the milk is fully separated, and use the temperatures listed above as a rough guideline.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the lined colander, and allow them to drain until the desired consistency is reached, anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours.