Traditional Ricotta is made by reheating the whey from a previous batch of rennet cheese, such as pecorino or mozzarella. The recipes that you’ll find smattered all over the internet are a variation on that tradition: milk acidified and heated with vinegars and lemon juice. My favorite recipe for ricotta uses buttermilk to acidify and coagulate the milk. The reasons are in the flavor and the texture. The flavor is more nuanced because of the diverse array of cultures that buttermilk contains. The texture is fluffier and creamier than the quick acid set counterparts. The great fact about ricotta is that you can dress it up quite simply and it comes to life as something entirely different.
Buttermilk Ricotta Recipe
Our favorite recipe for ricotta uses buttermilk as a coagulant. The result is a pillowy, delicate curd with great texture and flavor. This recipe yields approximately one to two pounds of ricotta cheese, depending on the butterfat content of the milk used.
1 gallon whole milk, NOT ultra-pasteurized (see recipe note)
4 cups cultured buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt
Large, heavy-bottomed pot (stainless steel or ceramic is preferable)
Thermometer that reads 0 to 200F
Cheesecloth or butter muslin (fine-meshed cheesecloth)
Medium-sized mixing bowl
Combine milk and buttermilk in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat it until it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Check with a thermometer, stirring occasionally.
Once it has reached 180 degrees, remove the pot from heat and let it sit anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes in order to allow the curds to form. Do not stir the milk mixture or the ricotta will have a grainy, thin texture.
Line a colander with a double layer of butter muslin. Pour or ladle the curds into the colander carefully and let drain anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how dry you want your ricotta.
Reserve the whey (water, protein, and minerals) for soup stock, lacto-fermentation pickling, wheymonade, smoothies, or as a rich plant feeder.
When the ricotta has drained, transfer it to a bowl, break it up, and stir. Add salt to taste. Use right away or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. This recipe yields 1 to 2 pounds of cheese, depending on the richness of the milk (whole milk is a higher yield than low fat).
Ultra-pasteurized milk has been aggressively heat treated, thus losing its binding agent (calcium chloride) that is essential for making cheese. Seek out milk labeled as Pasteurized, or source raw milk from a trusted farm source. If you mistakenly purchase Ultra-pasteurized milk, the recipe will still work but the yield will be lower than usual and may take longer to set.
This recipe was adapted from Kathy Farrell-Kingsley.