When it comes to cheese, there are a LOT of differences between them. Soft, semi-soft, hard and hard grating cheeses are differentiated one from another not only by their recipes but by countless factors that eventually influence their look, feel and taste.
Even when the same animal’s milk is used, cow, sheep or buffalo for instance, the flavor of the cheese can be greatly influenced by what feed the animal was raised on, which, in turn, gives that milk its own unique, delicious taste and, therefore, its cheese.
When it comes to ricotta, which is a cow’s milk cheese, it’s more a matter of whether you used packaged or fresh because there is a BIG difference between the two, and it’s most noticeable when used in stuffed pastas and other Italian dishes.
Fresh ricotta is creamier, lighter, and altogether more tasty and satisfying than the packaged version. If you’ve never had fresh ricotta, it will be a revelation, and you’ll want to eat it by the spoonful before it even makes it into one of your favorite recipes.
Now, Nino’s sells fresh ricotta cheese along with other fresh varieties of cheese (you probably already guessed that), but in fact, ricotta cheese is SO easy to make, you may want to enjoy making it in your home kitchen!
It only takes a large pot, a kitchen thermometer that reads to 200 F and some cheesecloth. The rest is milk, cream, lemon juice and salt…easy peasy. Within 1 hour, from start to finish, you can have 2 cups of the most fantastic ricotta cheese you’ve EVER tasted and the satisfaction of knowing you made it yourself.
Fresh Ricotta Cheese: Makes about 2 cups
½ Gallon Whole Milk
1 ½ Cups Heavy Cream (I prefer 40% Butterfat)
1 tsp Kosher Salt (Non-Iodized)
¼ Cup Fresh-Squeezed Lemon Juice (Strained)
1. Before beginning, line a medium-size strainer with 4 layers of cheesecloth. You should drape extra cheese cloth over the sides of the strainer so that you can gather the resulting cheese (curd) up and allow the resulting curds to hang in order to drain off the excess whey. If you wish to re-purpose the leftover whey, place this strainer over a pot instead of the sink.
2. Combine milk, cream, and salt over medium heat while gently stirring. Bring this to a scalding temperature of between 195 and 200 F.
3. Stir in the fresh lemon juice slowly, and then remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes. During this time, the acid from the lemon juice will coagulate the milk and create a soft curd that will separate from the creamy whey.
4. Gently pour curds and whey into the cheesecloth lined strainer, and then allow the cheese to drain, undisturbed, for about 20 minutes.
5. For a softer ricotta, turn the ricotta out into a bowl right from the strainer. For a firmer ricotta, which you might want to use for lasagna or stuffing shells, gather up the edges of the cheesecloth (with the ricotta still inside) and hang by the gathered cloth over a bowl or the sink to allow to drain an additional hour.
Your finished ricotta should be allowed to rest for at least 3 to 4 hours before serving, and it will keep very well in your fridge for nearly a week if kept covered.
Ricotta Recipes: Fresh ricotta can be used in SO many recipes! Here are a few suggestions:
• Mounded over sauced pasta
• Sweetened and used in a cannoli stuffing
• Mixed with honey and figs
• Famous in lasagna
• Mixed with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil for a crostini topping
• Fabulous in cheesecakes & muffins
• Tossed with fresh strawberries and drizzled with balsamic vinegar
However you choose to enjoy ricotta cheese, it’s simply one of the freshest and most delicious cheeses you can enjoy throughout the year, and it’s very easy to make.