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Make your own ricotta

Because it doesn’t use a bacterial culture or rennet (an enzyme), ricotta cheese is technically a “dairy product,” but it’s still darn good.

Its rich, creamy texture with just a slight graininess is finer than cottage cheese, but fresh ricotta is also slightly sweeter and much more tasty. And, with a bit of practice, it’s fairly easy to make at home. The only real equipment you need is a thermometer.

The story goes that Italian ricotta was made in order to use up the whey that was produced when making cheese (ricotta essentially means “re-cooked”). Cheesemakers heat the whey and then add acid; this causes milk proteins to clump together and form into white curds. You can do basically the same thing at home with a few ingredients and a bit of time.

Ricotta dome (Photo/Wikimedia Commons).

Into a large pot, pour 8 cups of whole milk. Add 1/3 of a cup of fresh lemon juice and stir gently for a few minutes. Place the pot over low heat and bring the liquid to a simmer, about 175-degrees Fahrenheit. Raise the heat to medium and carefully bring the temperature to 205-degrees F. Remove from the heat and let the liquid sit for 10-15 minutes while the curds form.

Remove the curds with a slotted spoon and strain into a bowl through a fine-meshed sieve and cheesecloth or good quality paper towels. Let it drain for about 10 minutes. More or less time draining will produce thinner or thicker ricotta.

Ricotta ravioli (Photo/Andrew Coppolino).

Thinner ricotta can be served warm with a few flecks of finishing salt, a drizzle of honey and some fruit. Thicker ricotta can be used for stuffing cannoli or ravioli.

Fresh ricotta can be stored in the refrigerator for five days.

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