Ricotta

Whey may well be the origin of the word ‘waste’, for so much leftover whey is tragically wasted.  As a cheesemaker, you’ll be faced with endless amounts of it: take one gallon of milk and make it into cheese, and at the end, you’ll still have almost a gallon of whey!  What to do with it all? One of the most delightful fresh cheeses can be made with whey: ricotta.

Ricotta is Italian for cooked again. It is a cheese made from leftover whey from mozzarella or other Italian cheeses. Its name refers to the second cheese made from a single batch of milk.

Ricotta is made similarly to paneer.  Except that it is made exclusively with whey.

It always surprises me that clear, yellowish whey holds within it the potential to make more cheese.  The protein remaining in whey, albumin, is the same type of protein found in egg whites, also a clear, yellowish liquid.  When egg whites are cooked, the albumin transforms into a solid.  When whey is cooked, and vinegar added, the albumin transforms into ricotta.

Most commercial ricottas are adultured with milk or milk protein in order to gain a higher yield.  This affects the ricotta’s flavour and degrades the texture of the cheese, making it more like paneer.  Ricotta made exclusively from whey has a distinct flavour and fascinating mouth feel, being both creamy and grainy at the same time.  You won’t get much ricotta out of a gallon of whey – only about half a cup of cheese.  So it’s best to make when you have lots and lots of whey. Save up and you’ll be rewarded!

Here’s the recipe: ———————-

1. Bring whey to a boil.

Bring at least one gallon of whey to a boil. Don’t worry about stirring it – even at the highest heat the whey will not burn.  As the whey boils, foam will form atop the pot. Keep an eye on the pot to be sure that the pot doesn’t overflow

2. Add vinegar.

While the whey boils, add one quarter cup of vinegar for every gallon of whey.  No need to stir, as the boiling whey will quickly mix the vinegar in on its own. Any kind of vinegar will do, as will lemon juice, and each will influence the flavour of the ricotta.  Note that if you choose to use lemon juice, you will need to add one half cup of juice for every gallon of whey.

Ricotta can be made without vinegar by letting fresh whey sour naturally.  As whey is left to age, lactic bacteria will convert lactose into lactic acid. This natural acidity is enough to separate the ricotta from the whey.  To make ricotta without vinegar, leave the whey out at room temperature for 24 hours, then bring to a boil.  As the soured whey boils, the ricotta curds will separate as if vinegar had been added; but the ricotta will not be as sweet because the lactose will have been converted to lactic acid…

3. Let the whey settle.

Turn off the heat, and watch the whey stop boiling.  As the whey calms, you will begin to notice tiny white flecks in the liquid.  They will begin to gather as flocks and settle, cloudlike at the surface of the whey.  These clouds are the ricotta.

4. Strain out your ricotta.

Once the curds have formed they can be straine from the whey.   I find the best results come by ladling out the cloudy curds and whey from the top of the pot, and pouring them through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Depending on the freshness of the whey, the ricotta may not rise to the surface, and the entire pot of ricotta must be poured through very fine cheesecloth. The ricotta will take several hours to drain.  It can be eaten as is, fresh, or pressed into a form and salted.

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notes:

*Only whey leftover from rennet cheeses will form ricotta.  Leftover paneer whey, in which the albumin has already been converted into the paneer, will not make ricotta, just like ricotta whey cannot be reused to make more ricotta.  Leftover ricotta or paneer whey, sadly, does not have many uses.  I use it as a fertilizer in my garden.

* Ricotta does not work with as well with wheys from softer cheeses!  The ricotta that forms when vinegar is added to chevre whey is ephemeral and nearly impossible to strain out.  The best whey to use for ricotta making is the whey leftover from alpine cheeses: the yield is nearly double that of softer cheeses, and much easier to strain.

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