Ricotta is an optimistic cheese, a bucolic one, wet and springy and feminine. It’s a cheese you eat with olive oil or honeycomb on a hillside in the sun. It’s a poor man’s cheese, a country bumpkin cheese, a dish for shepherds and milkmaids and ploughmen.
The ancestors of ricotta date back to the bronze age, but the modern iteration is a lovechild born a thousand years ago in Sicily, when the island was under Arabic rule. Ricotta is gold wrung from wastewater – traditionally made from leftover sheep’s cheese whey, a literal peasant’s portion, an ingenuity born of necessity. The wealthy caught on eventually and claimed it for themselves, as they do, and ricotta’s current culinary rep is much more bijou than it perhaps deserves. Ricotta is, at the heart of it, wholesome countryside food, easy to make, easier to eat.
I love ricotta on pancakes with lemon curd, on fresh country bread with radishes and sprouts, with tomatoes and sea salt, and of course, by itself. Unseasoned ricotta is aromatic, light but rich, fresh and soft and mild. The leftover whey is wonderful in bread or pizza dough, so you might want to think about keeping that around too.
What you’ll need:
2 litres of whole milk, sheep’s or otherwise
240 ml heavy cream
the juice of one lemon
a generous pinch of seasalt
cheesecloth or muslin
1. Bring the milk, cream, and sea salt to a rolling boil over medium heat in a large saucepan, stirring constantly to prevent scalding and skinning. This step smells amazing, by the way.
2. Lower the heat, and add the lemon juice. Stir constantly for two to three minutes, until the milk/cream concoction curdles.
3. Pour into a cheesecloth-covered colander set into a large bowl. Once the majority of the whey has drained, tie the ends of the cheesecloth together to form a little packet, and suspend over a bowl to let drain for an hour. I just tie mine to a cupboard handle – it’s the easiest thing in the world.
Eat your ricotta in 2 to 3 days for optimal flavour and freshness, and keep it in the fridge in a covered container. Use the leftover whey as soon as possible.