The art of making whey ricotta was mastered by the Sicilians sometime between the birth o f Jesus and the Romans becoming Christian. They discovered that heating whey, a by-product of cheesemaking, with a bit of acid, such as lemon juice, vinegar or soured milk, encouraged the remaining protein to form cloud like curds. Curds that are delicate, sweet and hard to stop eating by the spoonful. Especially when fresh.
Recently a friend asked me to make some ricotta and because sourcing a vat of whey is difficult, I decided to make the ancient whole milk version. One that has been made by Italians since the Bronze Age.
I had never made whole milk ricotta before, but I like to think of myself as a diary women and was up for the challenge. Besides it used to be made in bronze pots over a fire. What could go wrong? To be honest, not much can go wrong. Poor technique may change the taste and texture of curds and reduce the yield, but you will always get some type of ricotta. And the ricotta you make will always taste better than the tubs you get in the supermarket. Simply because it is fresh.
A fail safe recipe for whole milk ricotta is:
Combine 6 litres of full cream milk with juice from about 5 lemons or 180ml vinegar in a large pan. Heat, stirring often, until it is just about to boil and curds begin to form and float to the surface. Remove the pan from the heat and let it set for 10 to 15 minutes before gently scooping the curds into a colander. Drain for at least 30 minutes.
The difference between ricotta made with lemon juice rather than vinegar is subtle. Ricotta with lemon juice produces softer sweeter curds that take longer to drain. Ricotta made with vinegar has a higher yield with stronger curds. Both make a ricotta that remind me how good simple fresh food can be.