This is simply the easiest and quickest way to create something that borders on amazing. Try this once and you'll be making your own cheese every week.
Consider this recipe Cheese Making 101. Cheeses gain their individual characters from different cultures and methods, but here we keep them pared down to the basics: milk, something acidic to separate the milk's solids (the curds) from the liquid (the whey) and salt for seasoning. Once you taste what you can pull off, who knows where you might take it.
Here, what separates ricotta from cream cheese is the amount of fat in the milk. Straight milk gives you ricotta; cream and milk gives you cream cheese. As you drain the cheese it goes from creamy to firmer. Just decide where you want to take it.
Cook to Cook: Rinsing the pot with cold water before pouring in the milk will save you some serious cleanup! The liquid whey can go into soups, stews and curries, and be used to cook pasta and rice.
1. Line a large colander with a layer of cheesecloth and place in the sink or over a bowl if you want to save the whey. Wet the cheesecloth to hold it firmly in place.
2. Over medium-high heat, bring the milk and salt to a gentle simmer in a heavy large pot. Stir in the lemon juice and continue to simmer gently until curds begin to form and float to the top, 1 to 2 minutes. They will first look like spatters of white, then gather into soft, cloud-like clumps. When you see the liquid begin to clear of cloudiness and the curds are firming up but not hard, scoop them out with a slotted spoon or sieve.
3. Let the curds drain thoroughly in the lined colander. If very soft, press gently to extract a little moisture, but take care not to dry out the cheese. Turn into a bowl, cover and chill.
Substitute for the 1 gallon whole milk: 2 quarts heavy cream, 1 quart half and half and 1 quart whole milk.
Refrigerated cheeses keep for a week, but the ricotta is at its best eaten fresh.
© 2010 Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.