Amateur tip: make sure you have Nonna or a San Paolo on speed dial when you do this.
One of my most fondest memories of my Nonno Giorgio, was the way he would light up when my mom and I brought him a basket of fresh ricotta from Angelino's, his favourite local food store in Guelph. I always assumed it was an intricate process that only professionals could perform, and it wasn't until this quarantine that I thought I would see if that was truly the case.
I did a bit of research on ricotta recipes, and found that there are several different techniques and ingredients to create the perfect ricotta. But being the skeptic that I am for such a classic like this, I decided to only trust the Nonni, or a descendent of the Nonni. Finally, I chose a recipe from a source called Mangia Bedda. It called for three simple ingredients and had tons of photos, so I was sold. Here's how it went:
Mangia Bedda's recipe calls for:
8 cups (2L) whole milk
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
I got the big pasta pot, and I was ready to dive in! My initial thought after pouring in the milk was "holy crap... we're gonna have ricotta for the whole block", but that was CERTAINLY not the case. I heated the milk on medium-high heat, added the salt, and waited for the milk to start bubbling. Then at a certain temperature, it said to remove the milk from the heat, pour in the lemon juice, and watch the magic happen. The recipe made it sound like lemon juice was Moses or something! Just pour it in, and watch it instantly part the milk from the whey! So with all that excitement, I pulled the pot over, added the Moses juice, and.......barely anything happened! You could see little tiny curds starting to form, but it looked nothing like the picture on the website.
So, I turned to every pro I knew, and with the help of one of my amazing chefs from work, (whom I now call San Paolo, Saint Paul in Italian) my ricotta was SAVED!! He told me to keep it on medium-low heat, and add another four tablespoons of lemon juice. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! It turns out that maintaining heat in combination with the high acidity is key. The curds started to thicken, and you could really see the separation happen.
Once I was happy with the consistency, I removed the pot from the heat, and left it covered for 20 minutes. After the curds had fully developed, it was ready to strain, and I poured the cheese into a colander layered with cheesecloth. Since I prefer my ricotta to be more creamy, I gave it a quicker strain before transferring it to a jar, otherwise you would let it strain for a longer period. This recipe made two small jam jars... that can barely feed my family, let alone the whole block!
My final thoughts for this project were overall pretty rewarding! I decided to take the plunge and try making a classic, and it turned out to be a great experience. I will definitely try another recipe which uses milk and cream, and compare the process and taste. This ricotta turned out to have a strong lemon flavour, which of course was inevitable for the amount of juice I used, but I thought it was pretty good for a first attempt. I could really picture what my Nonno's face would look like if he knew I made one of his favourites, and that alone is a reward in itself. Once I get the hang of it, you will be the first to know! If you are interested in trying to make ricotta yourself, click the link above from Mangia Bedda, and let me know in the comment section below what your experience was like.
Be sure to like this post if you enjoyed it, and I can't wait to share more culinary firsts with you. All the best to you and your families during this time, and stay safe.
Fa la brava,