Note: My friends at Honest Cooking and Colavita provided me with a sample of Colavita white balsamic vinegar, which I used for developing this recipe. I also styled this photo with edible Nasturtium flowers from Marx Foods. Thanks to all of my generous sponsors!
Have you ever made ricotta cheese? I do it every once in awhile, and every time I wonder why I don’t make it part of my weekly routine, like washing our sheets (although it would add yet another ridiculous checkbox to my to-do list, which already includes such nonsensical tasks like “buy 10 pounds of fruit” and “make a paper helicopter with Ge Ge”). It’s so easy to make ricotta, and there’s really no match for the homemade version. The homemade kind can be as liquid or thick as you want, and I find it generally comes out much smoother and creamier than the store-bought version. It’s so good that you can just spread some on a cracker, drizzle some honey on top and call it a gourmet snack.
While shopping by myself at Whole Foods on Friday night for the ingredients to make ricotta, I found some whole goat’s milk just hanging out in the dairy case. By the way, a trip to the grocery store by myself is pure bliss these days. I’m sad to admit that the ability to wander aimlessly through the aisles without having to corral the kids at the same time (both of whom generally refuse to sit in a shopping cart) is just as restorative for me as a spa day. If you’re a mom, you feel me on this, right?
But back to the goat’s milk. I wondered what it would be like to make a goat milk ricotta from scratch. I love chèvre (goat cheese). I love it on a crusty piece of French bread topped with sour cherry jam. I love it with jalapeños and prosciutto inside my crepes. I love it on a spoon while I’m standing in the kitchen reading recipes on my iPad. But I haven’t seen a ricotta made with goat milk readily available, so I thought I’d bring some goat milk home and try my hand and making some.
Guess what? Goat milk ricotta is AWESOME AND EASY TO MAKE. Clappy hands! It has all the creamy richness of chèvre but with the mild versatility of ricotta. It curdles just like cow’s or sheep’s milk, and it requires very little hands-on time. Anyone — and I truly mean anyone — can make goat milk ricotta and drastically improve their lives. I’m not saying this because it’s medicinal. I’m saying this because with a batch of goat milk ricotta in your refrigerator, almost anything in your weekly meal lineup can be fancy with the addition of homemade ricotta. Have a blah spinach salad? Plop some ricotta on top and drizzle it with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Need a new pasta dish? Mix this creamy white gold with some chopped spinach and an egg, stuff it in some cooked jumbo pasta shells and cover it with marinara sauce before baking for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. It’s a great dessert foundation too, when mixed with some honey and lemon zest and topped with a mix of fresh berries.
The trickiest part of making ricotta, if you could call it tricky, is having enough faith in the chemical process that causes milk to curdle when an acid (like lemon juice or, in my recipe, white balsamic vinegar) is mixed into the hot milk mixture. After you stir in the vinegar, don’t touch your ricotta and let it stand on the stove burner, heat off, for at least 2-3 minutes to give it ample time to curdle. This is a critical step, as you need enough time and enough acid for curds to form. You’ll know you’ve got enough curdles when you run a spoon through your hot milk mixture and see lots of lumps on the surface, almost like really runny cottage cheese.
The other somewhat subjective, loosey-goosey part of making ricotta is the straining process, which happens right after your hot milk mixture has had sufficient time to curdle. Pouring the mixture into the strainer basically allows for the curds to separate from the whey (the runny, milky liquid) and for the cheese to essentially take shape. There are recipes recommending that you let the ricotta strain from anywhere between 20 minutes to a couple of hours depending on how thick you like the ricotta. I wanted mine to be pretty thick for baking (see below), so I let it sit out for about two hours.
After sitting covered with plastic wrap for about two more hours, my ricotta emerged, custard-like and triumphant. I ran a small spoon across the top and let the ricotta fall straight into my mouth. Immediately my eyes closed, and out of my mouth escaped an unavoidable groan. Without using inappropriate language, let’s just say that ricotta was seven kinds of dreamy.
Since then, I’ve used this ricotta in two more recipes, which I’ll be posting this week. Come back tomorrow for the beauties pictured above, which are Medjool dates stuffed with ricotta and pine nuts, then drizzled with Colavita balsamic glace and topped with Colavita’s Rachel Ray Salt from the Sea. Here’s a teaser: they are sticky, ooey goodness that might make you cry and laugh at the same time.
- 4 cups (1 quart) whole goat milk
- 2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon coarsely grated Colavita's Rachel Ray Salt from the Sea
- 4 tablespoons Colavita white balsamic vinegar
- 1 unbleached cheesecloth
- Set a strainer over a bowl, then line with 2 layers of cheesecloth.
- Over medium high heat, bring heavy cream, goat milk and salt to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid scalding.
- Turn off the heat and gently stir in the vinegar. Let the vinegar and milk mixture sit in the pot, untouched, for at least 2 minutes until loose curds form.
- Pour the milk mixture slowly into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and bowl. Let the cheese drain, checking the bowl every few minutes to empty out the whey (the liquid that separates from the curds).
- Allow the ricotta to strain for 20-30 minutes or longer (if you like thicker ricotta). Transfer curds to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate at least two hours.
To write this recipe, I drew on inspiration from these recipes by Epicurious, Ina Garten, Sprinkles & Sprouts and Culinary Ginger.