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Mar 14, 2012 12:59 PM

homemade ricotta cheese

Thanks to the urging of several chowhounders, I made some homemade ricotta a few weeks ago. It came out perfectly.

Now today I went to do it again and it doesn't seem to be working as well. I heated some milk and sauce in a saucepan and then added some lemon juice. The first time I did this, the curds separated beautifully, I strained it in cheesecloth and was done. Now, the curds separated a bit, but not nearly as much. I have very few curbs compared to last time.

Any ideas on why this batch is making so much less cheese? Many thanks.

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  1. Are you using fresh lemon juice or concentrate?
    The pH of fresh juice can vary.
    I'd add a little vinegar to the batch to see if you get more curds.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dave_c

      I was using fresh lemon juice. I even added a little more, but it didn't help. I didn't think of vinegar. In the end, I took out the curds that I had, but I had about a cup of cheese out of a gallon of milk. Not too good.

    2. In Indian cooking it is called home made paneer.
      Make sure to squeez lemon ahead of time in a cup and then pour lemon juice at one spot in fully boiled milk. Adding little bit of vinegar is O.K.
      Another reason could be if milk is full fat or less fat.
      You can use water in cooking or drink. Good for stomach.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Sjain

        Thank you. I honestly hadn't thought about using the water for anything. It is a shame to waste and I'm sure you are correct about its medicinal properties.

        1. re: Sjain

          Also, yes, I used 2% this time, and whole milk last time. Could that be it? I didn't think it would make that much of a difference.

            1. re: magiesmom

              FWIW, i prefer to use vinegar most of the time...

            2. re: lafarrell

              2% milk shouldn't make a huge difference in your yield, actually - just in the flavor/texture of the final product. I have had this issue many times when making ricotta, and the answer is simply to keep adding acid until you get a "clean break" between curds and whey. The whey should be clear and greenish-yellow, not milky at all.

              1. re: biondanonima

                That was a big difference from last time. Last time, the whey was clear and greenish-yellow, as you say. This time it was milky. I did try to add more lemon juice, but it didn't do anything. Maybe I needed to add even more.

                1. re: lafarrell

                  Yes, when that happens to me I gently reheat to 180 and add more vinegar by tablespoons until I get a truly clean break, no milky whey. It can take a lot more than you might think, but the additional acid doesn't stay in the cheese, so it doesn't affect the flavor at all in my experience.

          1. I posted with a similar problem last week. Here are the responses:

            I got good counsel.

            1. You want just below boiling (between 165- and 190-degrees).
            2. Vinegar has a more consistent level of acidity than lemon juice.
            3. Add the vinegar after the milk has boiled, then stir well but gently.
            4. Let the milk stand and develop curds (the milk curdles).

            When I tried it the second time, it was easy. It was fast. It was delicious. The ricotta was sweet and light and felt like a cloud in my mouth.

            2 Replies
            1. re: chicgail

              Thank you. Those are the results that I got the first time: easy, fast, delicious. This time it seemed to take forever and didn't even taste as good, and I got a lot less. Maybe I didn't bring have the milk hot enough this time. And I'll try vinegar next time. I'm glad that I had success the first time (if only by accident) or I probably wouldn't bother to try again. I guess I have to work at it a bit.

              1. re: lafarrell

                Apparently vinegar has a more consistent acidity than lemon juice, which can vary in acidity.

            2. If I do this how much vinegar, and Cider, White, Balsamic?

              3 Replies
              1. re: Nanzi

                I would definitely recommend white. It's neutral. Anything else and you will flavor the ricotta with the vinegar. It may be an interesting experiment if you really like balsamic and cider vinegar. But it probably won't yield a pure ricotta.

                1. re: egit

                  I use cider vinegar all the time and it doesn't flavor the cheese at all. The vinegar is left behind in the whey. I wouldn't use balsamic, due to the fact that it has sugar and isn't nearly as acidic as other vinegars, but cider vinegar is perfectly fine if you don't have white vinegar. I usually start with a half cup to a gallon of milk, but sometimes it needs more to get a clean break.

                2. re: Nanzi

                  White vinegar. 1 T for each cup of milk seems to work.

                3. The recipe I followed said 2 cups milk will make 1/2 cup ricotta. Not very cost effective, since I can get 3 lbs of old fashioned ricotta for $3 and change. But I want to learn how to do it just in case; first batch I did on the stove, almost saw bubbles coming up even though my cheap thermometer only read 150. Added vinegar, let sit and not much happened. Strained and all I got was a creamy piece of cheesecloth.

                  So I took the other recipe I had pulled out to try to figure out what I did wrong; this one was for microwaving and said to keep putting it back in the mic for 30 seconds until it curdled. Gave up after 6 tries. Good thing I got the milk on sale!

                  Took the other 2 cups I had of milk and heated in the microwave, that worked better. As promised, it yeilded about 1/2 cup. Definitely have to work on this though, this time the cheese was TOO dense for me.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: coll

                    It may not be cost effective, but when freshly made, still warm with honey drizzled over..... oh my!

                    1. re: wyogal

                      Well, so far the stuff I get from Brooklyn is so much better, but I will keep working on it til I get it where I want. Hopefully before next Christmas! I just want it for mixing in with pasta, maybe this is a different animal?

                      1. re: coll

                        i like to make it for gnocchi or would it be gnudi? And as a pasta filling. and to eat plain. or with honey. I just love it.
                        I never boil the milk, I bring it to 180F, then dump in vinegar until it curdles. I never measure.

                        1. re: wyogal

                          I wouldn't bother measuring either now that I tried it. After my first failure, I saw the other recipe said bring to a slow boil so I went a little further to see if it helped. It did come out a bit better then.

                          I served it to my husband for his white clam sauce, which is a family tradition to be served with ricotta, and he wasn't raving or anything. It sort of clumped up in there instead of disolving. Not enough for the two of us!

                          1. re: coll

                            Where in Brooklyn can you get it so inexpensively? $1 a pound is unreal - I live in Queens and the few places that make it fresh around me charge WAY more than that. I actually find making it at home to be very cost effective, because the grocery store brands are usually about $5 a pound and I get about a pound and a half from a gallon of milk (which I buy at Costco for $3). If I had a source like yours I'd never make it again!

                            BTW, I do it just as Wyogal does - heat to 180, add vinegar till it curdles, drain. I use full fat milk and drain it until it's a little drier than I want it to be, then stir in heavy cream to achieve my ideal texture. I find adding the cream to the milk pre-curdling gives it a pasty mouthfeel.

                            1. re: biondanonima

                              It's from Brooklyn but I get it wholesale at a restaurant supplier. Aiello/Scala is the brand. So it's not "fresh" but it is "old fashioned", like Calabro. I eat it out of the container, like a cannoli without a shell!

                              I am looking forward to trying to make it again myself, next time milk is on sale. It's just that it came out almost solid, and I expected fluffy curds. Adding the heavy cream after the fact might be what I need to do. I will have to keep trying, because I don't get to the place I buy my ricotta as much lately, and when I had to go back to Pollyo and Sorrento in a pinch, I was very unhappy.

                              1. re: coll

                                I've made ricotta only a few times, so I'm no expert. The first time I made it, I had the same thing happen -- too solid. I was following a recipe that said to stop draining it after only 2-3 minutes. I probably let it drain for 5-10 minutes. The next time I made it I dumped it out of the cloth after maybe 3 minutes, and it came out much better.

                                I guess I found it hard to judge the timing because it took me a good 2-3 minutes just to scoop the curds from the whey. I was using what's basically a soup skimmer to accomplish it.

                                So here's a question for the cheese-makers: Do you just dump the entire contents of the pot into a cloth-lined strainer, or do you scoop/strain/drop the curds into the cloth-lined strainer? I've employed the latter technique, and I think that process makes it hard to figure out how long to drain it.

                                1. re: egit

                                  I just dump, and I don't really time the straining, either. I just let it go until it seems a little thicker than I really want it, then put it in a storage container, break it up with a fork and add cream and salt until the consistency and flavor are what I'm looking for. I also find that if you overheat your milk, you get a much firmer product, so I'm always gentle with the heat and I watch the thermometer closely - no higher than 180.

                                  1. re: egit

                                    My recipe said a half hour I think. No wonder! I scooped and dumped I think.