Making ricotta at home is probably the easiest cheese of all, and it takes about 40 minutes! Since this type of cheese is a “fresh cheese,” meaning it is not aged, you can vary the moisture a little and make queso fresco, cottage cheese, farmer’s cheese, or paneer. They are all basically the same thing, with different moisture levels. Paneer requires a pressing, but that can be done with cheesecloth and some weight applied. To make cottage cheese, after draining and squeezing out the whey, add a little heavy cream to the consistency desired. A little salt helps, too. Cottage cheese can also be made with rennet, but vinegar or lemon juice is so easy and good.
Not only is homemade better in freshness and taste, but it’s easier and faster than having to make a trip to the store when you need ricotta for a recipe. Plus, you know what’s in it. It is great by itself, or mix in a little honey or jam, or spread it on toast.
2 qt milk (4% whole works best)
4 T. vinegar (some use lemon juice)
Salt to taste
Muslin cloth or nut bag (My fave is a flour sack dish towel, found at Walmart)
A sauce pan alone may be used but the double boiler just about eliminates scorching the milk. See above photo for my setup. I use a soup pot and a skillet that is a little larger in diameter than the pot. Muslin cloth works better than cheesecloth because of the finer mesh. A double or triple layer of cheesecloth will also work.
Place pot into skillet, add milk to pot, and fill skillet about 3/4 way with hot tap water.
Heat skillet on medium high, stirring often, until milk is about 200 degrees F., or just under boiling.
Remove from heat. Add 4T. vinegar and stir gently for a few seconds.
Allow to stand for 15 minutes while the milk curdles. At end of 15, you should see curdles surrounded by mostly clear whey. If liquid is more milk than whey, add 2T. vinegar and allow to sit 10 more minutes.
Pour all gently into colander lined with cloth. Allow to drain until desired consistency is reached. Add salt to taste. To get it dryer, bring up the corners and sides of the cloth to make a bag. Then suspend the bag over a container to allow several hours of draining. The whey is good to drink over ice, or can be used in many recipes. Dogs, cats, chickens, and others love it.