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Ricotta Disaster?

Heeeeeeellllp... Helllp me...

So, I had a gallon of milk I needed to use up. I dug through the boards and found ricotta! "Aha!" I thought to myself. "I have milk! I have salt! I have lemons! I can do this!"

Well, two hours and a sink full of dishes later, I have around a quart of seriously weird-looking curdled business that I'm assuming (???) is ricotta. I mean, holy crap. I apparently had the world's most boiling-resistant milk, and the stuff stuck despite my pretty much constant stirring so I ended up fishing out bits of brown milk protein with my sieve, and the whey was bizarrely yellow...

What did I do wrong? Am I going to have to throw the whole lot into the bin? I used the epicurous.com recipe, except that I used all 2% milk.

Help me, chowhounders, you're my only hope!

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  1. I don't know if you can salvage what you have. After making ricotta, I reheat the resulting whey with additional acid to get the secondary cheese. This is the basic recipe that I use. It is from cheesemaking.com. I have used citric acid and vinegar. I have never tried lemon juice since my lemons always seem to vary greatly. Though the recipe calls for whole milk, I understand that 2% will work, though the yield is much lower.

    Ricotta from Whole Milk

    Use whole milk .. The fresher the better
    Add 2 tsp of citric acid per gallon of liquid (dissolved in 1 cup cool water). Add 1/2 of this Citric Acid solution to the milk (save the rest of the citric acid). Stir briskly for 5-10 seconds.
    Add 1 tsp salt
    Heat the milk slowly on low to med stirring well to prevent scorching
    At 165-170F watch for small flakes forming in the milk and the separation of small curds.
    If after a few minutes you do not see the flakes forming, add more of the Citric acid until they form (do this in small 1 Tbsp increments to avoid over acid milk).
    Continue heating to 190-195F then turn the heat off
    As the curds rise, use a perforated ladle to gently move them from the sides to the center of the pot. These clumps of curd will begin to consolidate floating on top of the liquid.
    Let the curds rest for 10-15 min.
    *** This is very important because this is the point where the final Ricotta quality is assured
    Ladle the curds gently into draining forms (No cheese cloth should be needed if you were patient in the previous step). Let the curds drain for 15 min up to several hours.

    For a fresh light ricotta, drain it for a short while (until the free whey drainage slows) and chill to below 50F. For a rich, dense and buttery texture allow it to drain for an extended period of time (several hours). before chilling overnight
    Move to a refrigerator or cold room. Consume within 10 days

    1. I have two ideas about problems:

      1. Did you use organic milk? If so, check to see if it was ultrapasteurized (it'll say UP somewhere). UP milk doesn't make cheese, because the heat denatures the casein. If you want to use organic, it has to be from a company that doesn't UP the milk--usually, a company that sells regionally (in NY and PA, we can buy Natural by Nature milk). Organic milk doesn't sell as quickly as conventional milk does, so a lot of the big companies UP it so it'll keep longer.

      2. Was your milk on or past the expiration date? I've had some bad luck with trying to cook milk that was just about to turn--I'd think, "If I act now, I can save it," but I'd just get a huge mess of stuff sticking to the pot.

      1 Reply
      1. A reciepe I recently read said not to use lemons, only commerical lemon juice, as the acidity varies greatly.

        1. My guess is that your milk was ultra-pasturized. It isn't always noted on the milk carton, so sometimes you don't even realize that it is UP until it fails to properly coagulate. Ricotta is slightly more tolerant of UP milk than other cheeses, like mozzarella, which is why you could still end up with the seriously weird-looking curdled business, but had your milk not been UP, you would have had nice creamy curds.
          As for the brown bits, your heat source may have been too high. Slow, gentle heating is really essential to prevent the browning bottom, and it also helps because you shouldn't be constantly stirring while heating (that will also help your curd develop properly).
          Yellowish whey isn't a problem. Bizarrely yellow may be, but I always think it's weird when I read instructions that say "Your whey should be clear". I make a lot of cheese, and my whey is not always entirely clear and it's usually yellow...
          Good luck on future attempts!!

          1. Regarding the sticking browning on the bottom, it's too much heat. The more you tighten your grip stirring, the more browned bits will slip through your fingers. Maybe try heating with a double boiler setup (one pan with water, the milk in a saucepan floating on top.

            1. Thanks, everybody. After it drained it just looked like very firm ricotta, so I gave it a taste, fully prepared to spit it out, and lo and behold, it tasted like ricotta! It went into a casserole and was just fine. :)

              I do definitely think that I over-heated it -- the recipe said "rolling boil" and I think that must be WAY too much. It was in fact organic milk (Horizon, to be exact, which I hate but it was on sale) -- I'd never thought of organic being ultra-pasteurized, but I'll be more careful to read labels in future.

              Thanks again for all your insights!

              8 Replies
              1. re: LauraGrace

                My experience is that all national brands of organic milk are ultra-pasturized. Disappointing isn't it? Glad you got your cheese to work for you.

                1. re: smtucker

                  Cripes. I mean, really. If it didn't taste SO DARN MUCH BETTER than ordinary milk, I would switch back. I swear, one of these days I'm just going to get a cow. She can graze in the courtyard of my condo complex. That'll work, right?

                  1. re: LauraGrace

                    We buy milk from a local farm at vast expense that isn't organic, but is fabulous. I use this for all my cheese making. Makes all the difference in the world.

                    1. re: LauraGrace

                      The Horizon Organic milk (in the red carton with the cow on it) is definitely UP - my FIL set up the processing machinery at one of their factories. FWIW, once UP, the milk has lost a lot of its nutritional content, as well as its ability to make cheese (I don't know which is worse!! :) But you should check around your supermarket's dairy case to see if you can find an alternative milk. We shop at Wegman's, and they sell a very local (though not certified organic) milk that is just excellent - and it's $2.39 a half gallon, compared to $3.29 for their store-brand organic and $3.79 for the Horizon. Plus, it's not UP. The only downside is that it doesn't last as long as the UP stuff...longer shelf life is, after all, the reason they UP. But I think it's worth the trade off, especially if you can manage to drink/use an entire half-gallon in a week.

                      1. re: RosemaryHoney

                        Thanks, RosemaryHoney!

                        I don't normally drink Horizon -- I think it tastes hideous. I buy milk at Whole Foods and get a gallon of 365 Organic (their brand) for about $5.70. It's delicious. I would love to do raw milk but I just do not have the time for the co-op stuff right now, and I'd love to buy local but it's around $4.50 for a half gallon. Just can't bring myself to drop that kind of money for milk! And I can definitely get through a gallon before it goes bad because of my Secret Awesome Milk Preservation Trick: shaking the milk every time I get it out. It lasts two or three weeks beyond the expiration date. :)

                        1. re: LauraGrace

                          wow, in a family that (literally) goes through a gallon a day, my problem is not the expiration, but the cost! so I buy plain old milk. I did try making mozzarella a while back with plain old milk (not UP) and still had lots of trouble with it not "setting". I gave up. Seems a "touchy" process. Hate to waste a gallon of milk (even at "only" $4 a gallon).

                          1. re: DGresh

                            Seriously... I must just be blessed to live in an area with low milk prices, because it seems like everyone who mentions how much they pay for a gallon pays more than I do!! $4 for regular milk! Yikes!

                            I find yogurt much easier than cheese for some reason. Odd?

                            1. re: LauraGrace

                              Yogurt is definitely easier than cheese. I make yogurt while making my morning coffee, but cheese requires some actual effort!

                              I'm with you on the milk thing - finding raw milk is very tricky and time consuming. But you should give the plain old local milk a try. Whole Foods may even carry something like this...? But also check out your local grocer. I hope you can find it, because it definitely helps with the cheesemaking and it's cheaper, too.