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Home dairying and cheesemaking

Ricotta Cheese Recipe
& using left over whey

When you make cheese, you end up with a lot of whey; that nutritious liquid left over from curdled milk when the curds are removed.  I'm sure you've wondered what to do with this whey.  You can't just throw it out (well some of you can, but I can't).  Whey contains the water-soluble proteins, vitamins, and minerals in the milk, so it's a shame to pour it down the drain.  There are many things you can do with this leftover whey.  You can use it in bread baking and soup stock.  It is wonderful to cook pasta or beans in  (increase the cooking time slightly).  You can feed it to your pig or chickens (don't feed it to the dog if you let her come in at night, 'cause you will have to keep letting her out to pee, ask me how I know).  It can be used to water plants, but if it is whey that you have added vinegar to, only use it to water acid-loving plants, such as junipers or roses.  You can even drink whey plain or sweetened.  And in a pinch it can be used to ripen your cheese if you're out of culture (you cannot use whey that has been used for Ricotta of Panir for this). I use whey as the liquid in reconstituting falafel mix ands other veggie burger type things. I also use the whey as the liquid in my homemade dog food (see Molly's Herbals site)

One of the really neat things about making cheese is that almost every time you make a hard cheese you can also make Ricotta (rî-kòt'e, rê-kôt'tä).  Ricotta is Italian for "to cook again" or "twice cooked."  It is a soft, smooth, fresh, unripened Italian cheese usually made from the whey of cow's or sheep's milk.  It can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes including lasagna, ravioli, and cannoli.

Ricotta is made by using heat to precipitate (separate) out the remaining albumin protein from the whey left over from making lactic acid/rennet precipitated cheeses.  Usually recipes call for the use of an acid, such as vinegar in precipitating the curds.  I have found, that in most cases, due to the fact that you ripen the milk as you make your hard cheese, the whey has enough acid on it's own and does not need the extra vinegar.  This is nice to be able to leave out, because you can then use the left over whey for more uses (such as watering your garden).  I also find that leaving the vinegar out creates a smoother cheese.  If you use the vinegar, the cheese can tend to be slightly grainy.  Ricotta is not a high yield cheese, but it's worth the effort.  Many recipes call for the addition of some whole milk to increase the yield, but I find this effects the texture (makes it grainier) and I don't add it.  I like my Ricotta "Old World Style"-smooth.

PLEASE NOTE that you cannot make Ricotta from the whey left over from making an acid precipitated cheese such as Panir/Queso Blanco or whole milk Ricotta. That is because you've already precipitated out all the albumin protein the milk has to give using acid and heat and there is nothing left over in the remaining whey to make whey Ricotta.

You can use your homemade Ricotta in almost any recipe that calls for cottage cheese.  It can be used instead of cream cheese to make cheesecake.  You can also stir in some herbs and eat it on crackers

Traditional Ricotta Recipe, using only Whey

Making Ricotta is very simple.  Over direct heat, heat the hard cheese whey to 200° (sometimes I accidentally heat it over 200° with no ill effects).  By the time it has reached this temperature you will see very tiny white particles (the albumin protein) floating in the whey.  The heat and acid from the ripe whey has precipitated the protein.  You can add a little vinegar at this point if you really think it necessary (one "glug" or 1/4 C. per 2 gallons of whey), it's up to you, and it won't hurt the Ricotta.

Line a colander with very fine cheesecloth, called "butter muslin". You must use a very fine cloth here, or your cheese will pass through the regular cloth. If you do not have fine cheesecloth, use a clean cotton cloth (like a pillow case).  Place the colander over a big pot so you can save the whey and carefully pour the whey into the colander.  Be very careful because the liquid is hot.  Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together and hang the ricotta to drain for a couple hours.

When it has drained, place the ricotta in a bowl and add salt to taste.  You will find that the Ricotta made from the whey of different cheeses has different tastes and textures.  I think Mozzarella makes the best.  Feta makes the strongest tasting (the taste increases as it ages in the fridge).  Ricotta will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Whole Milk Ricotta Recipe

While it isn't "traditional" it is nice to be able to make ricotta out of plain 'ol milk you can buy at the store. This is the first cheese I ever made. I started making it quite a bit after I realized that making my own Ricotta with store bought milk was cheaper (and more fun) than buying Ricotta at the store. This "Ricotta" will be drier and not as smooth and creamy as the traditional "real" Ricotta. It tastes great and can be used as a ricotta substitute is most receipts.

In a heavy pot, over direct heat, heat 2 quarts of whole milk to 200° (sometime I accidentally heat it to boiling).  Add 3 Tablespoons of white vinegar or 1/4 Cup of fresh, strained lemon juice. Make sure to bring the temperature back up to 200*. You will see very tiny white particles (the albumin protein) floating in the whey.  The heat and acid from the ripe whey has precipitated the protein. 

Remove the pot from the heat and set it, covered, to rest undisturbed for about 15 minutes.

Line a colander with very fine cheesecloth, called "butter muslin". You must use a very fine cloth here, or your cheese will pass through the regular cloth. If you do not have fine cheesecloth, use a clean cotton cloth (like a pillow case).  Place the colander over a big pot so you can save the whey and carefully pour the whey into the colander.  Be very careful because the liquid is hot.  Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together and hang the ricotta to drain for an hour or so (the longer you hand it, the "drier" your finished cheese will be.

When it has drained, place the ricotta in a bowl, break up, stir and add salt to taste (1/4 tsp.- 1/2 tsp.).   This Ricotta will keep for about a week in the fridge.


After you have made your Ricotta, you will still have a lot of whey left over.  You can now use it for some of the things I've listed at the beginning of this column.  Ricotta freezes fairly well, but is never quite as good as fresh.  I freeze lots of Ricotta in the summer to use in bread baking in the winter.  The following Dill bread recipe uses both whey and ricotta in its preparation.  If you don't have whey and Ricotta, this bread can be made with water instead of whey, and small curd cottage cheese instead of Ricotta.  This is a delicious bread that makes excellent toast and grilled cheese sandwiches.  You will always find this bread on hand here at Fias Co Farm.  This recipe makes two loaves.

 

Dill Bread
  • 1/2 C. Whey
  • 1 T. Yeast
  • 2 C. Ricotta
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 4 T. Sugar
  • 1 sm. Onion, minced
  • 2 tsp. Dill weed
  • 2 tsp. Dill seed
  • 2 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Baking soda
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 C. Wheat germ
  • 5-6 C. Flour
        Heat the whey to luke warm and place in a large mixing bowl.  Dissolve the yeast in the whey.  Place the Ricotta and the butter in a microwave safe bowl and heat in the microwave until the butter just melts (about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on high); be sure to stir it occasionally.

To the yeast mixture add the sugar, onion, dill weed & seed, salt, baking soda and eggs.  Mix until combined.  Add the wheat germ and the Ricotta, and mix well.  Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour and beat on medium for 5 minutes.  Slowly add another 1 1/2 cups of flour.  Now switch to the dough hook and continue to slowly add enough of the remaining flour to create a fairly stiff dough.  I use a heavy duty KitchenAid mixer when making this bread.  If you have a "weaker" mixer, you may have to finish adding the rest of the flour by hand.  Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until the dough springs back when you poke it (5 to 10 minutes).

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.  Punch down, knead briefly and divide in half.  Shape the dough into smooth loaves and place in greased loaf pans.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.  To be honest, I rarely time the risings; I tend to just keep an eye on the loaves until they look right.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350° for about 50 minutes.

When the bread is done, turn it out of its pan and let it cool on a wire rack.  Cut yourself off a piece and eat it while it's still warm.  Yummm.

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