Homemade Lemony Herbed Ricotta

With a party coming up and a pot garden full of fresh herbs, I decided to make homemade fresh cheese that resembles ricotta, and combine it with lemon zest, snipped leaves of tarragon, lovage and chives, and the magenta chive flowerets. This was a delicious spread with black bread but could be served any number of ways.

Since I needed two batches of homemade ricotta to service the party (each of my normal recipes makes a little less than 1 cup), I decided to try two separate methods side by side. One, which I’ve posted before, heats milk with buttermilk until the curds (the cheese part) and whey (the liquid part) separate, which is at around 175 degrees. The other method heats milk to a slightly higher temperature –190 – and, off heat, adds vinegar or lemon juice, which curdles the milk in about 5 minutes. In both cases, the curds are gently transferred to a sieve heavily lined with cheesecloth and set over a bowl. The excess liquid drains until your cheese achieves the desired consistency, and that’s it. 

The drainage time depends on the consistency of your ricotta and the intended use. Since I wanted mine as a spread, 1drained it for 30 minutes, but I could have done less. An hour would make a ricotta that you could combine in a baked dish.   

I was aiming for a creamy spread so I used organic whole milk from a fairly local dairy that sells milk in glass bottles. The buttermilk, from the same dairy, added a certain richness to this version that was lacking in the other, along with a naturally tangy flavor. I could have added a little heavy cream to the version with lemon juice, and it probably would have been closer to the one with buttermilk. They both produced delicious whey, the liquid left over after the curds are removed, which I will use as a soup base. 

Since fresh ricotta takes under half and hour to make and cure for most uses, there’s no reason to buy the grocery version. Many of those brands add stabilizers that, while sometimes made of natural ingredients, add a slightly gummy texture to the cheese. At least that’s my view.

Homemade “Ricotta” Cheese, Buttermilk Version

1 quart milk (whole or 2%)

1 cup buttermilk

Line a small sieve set over a bowl with 4-5 levels of cheesecloth. Have on hand a silicone spatula, a thermometer (I use a candy thermometer) and a fine-mesh strainer (I use an Asian skimmer). Put the milk and buttermilk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat; insert the thermometer. Cook until the curds and whey start to separate, around 175 degrees. Do not over cook but it’s ok to go to 180. Remove from the heat and slowly scoop the curds into the lined sieve. Let them drain for 15-20 minutes. If you want a harder cheese, tie the cheesecloth in a bundle and suspend the cheese over a bowl for an hour or two. It will lose more liquid and become hard. Store in the refrigerator and use within 3-4 days.

Makes about 1 cup, ½ pound

Homemade “Ricotta” Cheese, Acid Version

1 quart milk (whole or 2%)

3 tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar

Line a small sieve set over a bowl with 4-5 levels of cheesecloth. Have on hand a silicone spatula, a thermometer (I use a candy thermometer) and a fine-mesh strainer (I use an Asian skimmer). Put the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat; insert the thermometer. Cook until the temperature reaches 190 degrees. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes, or until the curds separate from the whey. Slowly scoop the curds into the lined sieve. Let them drain for 15-20 minutes. If you want a harder cheese, tie the cheesecloth in a bundle and suspend the cheese over a bowl for an hour or two. It will lose more liquid and become hard. Store in the refrigerator and use within 3-4 days.

Makes just under 1 cup, ½ pound

Lemon Herb Ricotta Spread

1½ – 2 c fresh ricotta cheese, preferably homemade

1 tsp grated lemon zest

1-2 tsp snipped tender herbs (e.g., tarragon, chives, chive blossoms, lovage, parsley dill)

Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together and serve with crackers or black bread.

Categories: Appetizers, CheeseTags: ,

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