I love ricotta cheese, so when I heard Lynne Rossetto Kasper describe how to prepare it on her weekly radio program, The Splendid Table, I rushed to the computer to download and try the recipe (http://www.publicradio.org/columns/splendidtable/recipes/homemade-ricotta-cream-cheese.html). Here is my version of her ricotta; I made a much smaller batch (one-quarter of the original recipe), as I didn’t want to commit to a full gallon of milk in case it didn’t turn out.
Happily, I succeeded on my first attempt. The soft, delicately flavored ricotta is delicious and comes together in just a few minutes. This is the perfect cheese for babies just beginning to enjoy dairy, and of course, for grown-ups who will love it plain, with fruit, drizzled with honey or agave nectar, or even made into a savory spread combined with cracked pepper and chopped fresh herbs. Thank you, Lynne, for the inspiration.
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Line a medium fine-mesh strainer with a piece of wet cheesecloth and set over a medium bowl. Combine 1 quart of milk (1%, 2%, or whole) and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon (1 1/2 tablespoons) and continue to cook until you begin to see soft clouds of curd form. This will happen slowly at first, and then you will distinctly see the thinner whey separate from the white curds. They will fully form in about 2 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon or small fine-mesh strainer, lift the curds out of the whey into the prepared cheesecloth-lined strainer. Allow the ricotta to set for a few minutes until most of the whey has drained, but be careful not to dry the cheese too much.
I have found that if the ricotta does become a bit dry, you can stir some of the whey back into it fairly easily. Discard the whey and store the ricotta for a day or so in the refrigerator. It’s best eaten as fresh as possible.
Makes about 1/2 cup