How to make homemade Ricotta Cheese. Yes, really.

January 10, 2014

How to make homemade ricotta cheese | One Hungry Mama

Right now I bet that a bunch of you are thinking, “Seriously? Homemade ricotta? I can get perfectly good ricotta at the market, thank you very much, One Hungry Mama.” Totally legit, but hear me out:

This is an awesomely easy kitchen project that can be done with the kids and will make you feel like a badass domestic goddess. Like the rockstar family cook that I know you are. I do not (necessarily!) expect you to make homemade ricotta all the time, but I hope that you’ll experience the deep satisfaction that comes from making a foundational food like bread or cheese from scratch. Even if just every once and a while. Or just once, period.

Think of making homemade ricotta as a small step towards discovering health and fun in your kitchen this year, and take the step this weekend. I know making homemade cheese might sound more like a leap, but I promise it isn’t. If you try and I’m wrong, I promise you can come back and yell at me and I won’t delete your comment. Deal?

You’ll find the proper recipe below, but I want to walk you through the process before we get to that. I want you to see how simple this is.

Start by putting whole milk, some heavy cream and big pinch of salt into a medium pot. I like using an enameled dutch oven because it heats up evenly, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. Use any nonreactive saucepan or pot. Attach a thermometer and heat the dairy to 180 degrees over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to keep it from scorching.

180 degrees?! I know that seems fussy and guess what? It is. I know you’re too busy with the kids to heat milk to a very specific temperature. So, guess what, I did the research and it turns out that you can get the milk to anywhere between 170-190 degrees and get the same results. You still have to be in the kitchen to watch, but don’t worry about being exact. Look for early signs of bubbling-180 degrees is the point at which the milk will begin to simmer— to know when it’s time to start checking the thermometer.

How to make homemade ricotta step 1 | One Hungry Mama

PS: If you miss the mark and the dairy goes above 190 degrees, you have to start over. No reducing the heat and continuing on. I’ve tried this, more than once, and it doesn’t work.

When the dairy reaches a temp between 170-190 degrees, turn off the heat and move your pot to a cold burner. Stir in freshly squeezed lemon juice, using a wooden or silicone spoon or spatula to gently stir 2 or 3 times only, and then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes, untouched. The dairy will begin to curdle: this is what you want! At first, you’ll see just one pocket of curds (milk solids) separating from the whey (the leftover clear liquid).

How to make homemade ricotta cheese step 2 | One Hungry Mama

Then more pockets will begin to appear.

How to make homemade ricotta cheese step 3 | One Hungry Mama

After five minutes, the curds and whey will have separated enough to start straining the cheese. Set a colander or strainer that’s been lined with cheese cloth into or across a large bowl. If using a strainer, the bowl has to be big enough so that the bottom of the strainer does not touch the bottom of the bowl. You want the whey to drip into the bowl without soaking back in.

With your set up complete, carefully pour the curdled dairy into the colander or strainer.

How to make homemade ricotta cheese step 4 | One Hungry Mama

Allow the curds—which will become your ricotta!—to strain for about an hour, no fussing necessary. If your bowl starts to fill up too much with whey, carefully pull the edges of the cheese cloth together, pull the bundled curds out of the colander or strainer, and hang the cheese to let it finish draining. Get creative if you have to. I do.

How to make homemade ricotta cheese step 5 | One Hungry Mama

After about an hour of straining, you’ll have ricotta! I like it soft and spreadable, so an hour usually does the trick. You can allow the cheese to strain longer, though, if you prefer a thicker, more firm cheese. It’s delicious—and so worth it—either way.

How to make homemade ricotta cheese step 6 | One Hungry Mama

Unlike ricotta you’ll buy at the supermarket, you can eat this stuff with a spoon. Or, even better, on toast with a sprinkle of salt and drizzle of honey (a favorite breakfast around these parts).
Fresh Ricotta and Honey on Toast | One Hungry Mama

Other ways to use your ricotta:

* Spread on a slice of crusty bread and top with my super quick homemade Tomato Jam or, really, any jam!
Balsamic Tomato Jam | One Hungry Mama

* Make an easy Zucchini, Mint and Ricotta Frittata for dinner.
Zucchini, mint and fresh ricotta cheese frittata | One Hungry Mama

* Or whip up this simple, affordable, and totally delicious dinner of Penne with Sausage, Roasted Tomatoes and Ricotta.
Penne with Sausage, Roasted Tomatoes and Ricotta Cheese | One Hungry Mama

* Another pasta possibility is this Lemony Pasta with Asparagus, Peas and Ricotta.
Lemony Pasta with Ricotta, Asparagus & Peas | One Hungry Mama

* Zuzz up a super healthy and satisfying Beet and Apple Sandwich.
OneHungryMama Beet Apple Sandwich

* Place a dollop on top of roasted fruit. I love these Roasted Plums with Fresh Ricotta and Prosciutto, which also works with persimmon.
roasted plums w ricotta & proscuitto | One Hungry Mama

Phew. And that’s just the beginning. So little work, so much reward. I hope you’ll give it a try.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
(Can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
Makes about 1 cup

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Add the milk, cream, and salt to a medium, nonreactive pot set over medium-high heat. Attach a thermometer (candy or deep fry will do; you can even hold in a meat thermometer to check the temperature) and heat the mixture to about 180 degrees (see not above for more detail), stirring occasionally to keep the dairy from scorching.

2. When the mixture has reached an appropriate temperature, remove the pot from the heat and add the lemon juice. Gently stir 2-3 times to ensure that the lemon juice is evenly distributed, then let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes or so.

3. In the meantime, line a colander or strainer with 2-3 layers of cheese cloth and place over a large bowl to catch the whey. Pour the curdled milk mixture into the colander or strainer and allow to strain for 1-2 hours, depending on your desired consistency for the cheese.

If during this time, the whey begins to fill the bowl too much, pull up the edges of the cheese cloth and hang the bundled curds somewhere where they can continue to drain without the whey soaking back in. When done, discard the whey and enjoy your ricotta! Pack up whatever you don’t eat right away into an airtight container to stay in your fridge for up to 5 days or so (keep time will vary from batch to batch, so use discretion!).

*Note: While you’ll want to hold off on sharing large quantities of this with eaters from 6- to 12-months old (i.e., don’t feed this the way you might yogurt), it’s a perfectly safe add-in for even very early eaters. Mix a little bit into oatmeal or another whole grain cereal, pastina, or even pureed vegetables to give them a creamy consistency.

7 Responses

  1. I’ve been dying to try to make my own cheese and this looks like the perfect “first recipe” for me to try. Buying ingredients today!

  2. Beth says:

    Any idea if you could do this with lactaid? I have lactose sensitive twins who are ok with yogurt and aged cheeses. You can buy lactaid cottage cheese, but not ricotta and I think it would have the same problem for them.

  3. That’s a great question, Beth, and, honestly, I’m not sure. I know that milk that’s been pasteurized but not also homogenized performs better in this recipe so the process through which the milk has been can make a difference. I assume it has to do with the cream content. Since I’m not familiar with how milk is treated to become Lactaid, I can’t say for sure, but think it’s worth a shot. Though ricotta made with standard whole milk that has been both pasteurized and homogenized doesn’t come out quite as heavenly, it does come out. And it’s fresh, homemade and good—so I’m guessing Lactaid will work, too. Does it come in full fat? If so, use that. Let me know how it turns out!


  4. Galen says:

    I really appreciate this recipe! Most of the stores in my home town sell brands of ricotta that include a load of icky, unnecessary ingredients. Only one store has ricotta without extra gums and goos, and that’s the store that I generally don’t really like to visit. I think that making my own will be an excellent task! Thanks for walking us through the steps.

  5. Anna says:

    This looks amazing! Thank you for sharing!

    One question: Is there anything that you know of that can be done w/ the whey?

  6. One Hungry Mama says:

    Hi, Anna. I’m not sure, though I know it’s healthy. Definitely worth looking up. And off the top of my head: add to a smoothie? Stir into oatmeal? Mix into a morning drink of kefir?!

  7. Terri Baker says:

    Anna! This was delicious! I substituted half of the lemon juice for white wine vinegar, and it turned out wonderful. It is SOOOOooo much better than store bought, that it is hardly comparable!

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