A Homemade Ricotta Method Comparison

We started receiving zucchini in our farm share a couple of weeks back and while I know that some spiced zucchini bread is in our future when the vegetable gets large, I was looking for something new to try that would enable the delicate buttery taste of young Zucchini¬† and other summer squashes to shine through. Digging through about a dozen old magazines and a couple of tried and true sites, the Zucchini recipe research uncovered multiple dishes that paired Zucchini with Ricotta cheese with recommendations for a homemade ricotta. My sister-in-law and fabulous chef Theresa always makes some homemade ricotta for their annual Christmas party so I know how awesome it can be but I have never tried making it myself. I checked out multiple recipes and three different ‘agents’ for curd development emerged – buttermilk, lemon juice or vinegar. Some recipes included whole milk only but some added heavy cream between 1:8¬† and 1:4 cream to milk. I decided to try two methods and there was a clear taste test winner which also happened to be the easier method to work with though both methods actually were pretty easy and both results tasted pretty darn good.

The winner is posted under Homemade Lemony Ricotta and we had the Zucchini Carpaccio at family dinner tonight. Tomorrow I will try Heidi Swanson’s Zucchini Ricotta Cheesecake and will let you know how that goes.

I started with the buttermilk method. Ingredients were simply a 1/2 Gallon of whole milk and 2 Cups of 2% buttermilk.  The milks were combined in my favorite heavy saute pan and heated while stirring to 175-180 degrees when the curd separated from the whey. I dug out the candy thermometer and stopped the cooking at just about 178 degrees. The curd was really tiny and the directions to use a slotted spoon to get the curds into the cheesecloth was a complete exercise in futility. I ended up pouring the mixture through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and that worked fine. Please note that a double layer of cheese cloth will do, the recipes recommending 4 layers must manufacture the stuff. The ricotta rested for 20 minutes and then you move the cheese to a bowl and lightly salt and stir Рdone. Pretty easy and tasty, delicate. It would be easy to remove too much liquid because even at 20 minutes the cheese was pretty dry. If I made this again, I would limit to 10-15 minutes of rest. Compared to the second method, this one is lower in fat with great taste and a dryer texture.

Next I tried the lemon juice method. Ingredients included a 1/2 Gallon of whole milk, 1 Cup heavy cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3 Tablespoons lemon juice. [Note: Mario Batali also adds lemon zest but most of the reviews complained about the overwhelming lemon-ness] In this method you combine the milk, cream and salt and then let it go more on it’s own to a full rolling boil – less stirring, no thermometer. Once the boil is reached you pour in the lemon juice, reduce to a simmer and let it cook for 2 minutes. The mixture was much thicker, creamier looking but having learned from the first method, I just poured through the cheesecloth lined sieve. Rest for this version was longer, an hour of allowing the whey to drip off. The resulting ricotta was luxurious, creamy and deliciously lemon -scented. This version won 100% of the taste tests and I will definitely make it again – perhaps for an Italian Ricotta Pie…hmmmm.

Buttermilk method – fewer ingredients, lower in fat. Had to use a candy thermometer and higher hands-on stirring and monitoring. Grainier, drier consistency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemon juice method, lower maintenance during the heating process, high fat, very creamy texture, lemon taste and scent was awesome – very nice depth, higher yield. Version would be my choice for Zucchini Carpaccio or for desserts with a lemon component.

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