Homemade ricotta takes spring cooking to the next level.
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homemade ricotta
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

"It's a magical thing to transform milk into cheese, and ricotta is a great first project," says Betsy Devine, whose company, Salvatore BKLYN, keeps many of New York's top restaurants stocked with fresh cheese. But who has time to make fresh cheese? As it turns out, you probably do. It takes just a few hours (most of it hands-off) and only three ingredients to make two pounds of fresh ricotta that's fluffier and more flavorful than any supermarket version.

While many recipes for homemade ricotta call for acidic ingredients such as vinegar or lemon juice to separate the curds from the whey, this recipe leans on buttermilk. "Harsh acids denature the milk proteins, creating a tough and gritty cheese," says Food & Wine's Paige Grandjean, who swears by this recipe. "The lactic acid naturally found in buttermilk is less acidic, so the curds form slowly, producing a light and velvety texture."

With just three ingredients, it's essential to source the best you can find. "Homemade ricotta should taste like the freshest full-fat milk," Devine says. "When you use great milk, you're on your way to a great ricotta." Grandjean agrees, adding it's best to avoid ultra-pasteurized dairy, which has been processed at a high heat: It will prevent the cheese curds from forming properly. While the ricotta is the star, shining in recipes like Parmesan-Herb Gnudi, Palak "Paneer" with Pressed Fresh Ricotta, and Honey-Ricotta Mousse with Strawberries, don't discard the leftover whey. It is a great substitute for all or some of the liquid in yeasted bread recipes, where it adds a pleasant tang to the loaf. "It effortlessly mimics the complex flavor of sourdough bread," Grandjean says. "Perfect for slathering with fluffy ricotta."

1. Heat Milk

homemade ricotta
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

Slowly heat milk, buttermilk, and kosher salt to 180°F, stirring occasionally to prevent bottom from scorching.

2. Cool Curd Layer


homemade ricotta
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

Let stand, undisturbed, to let curds form and float to the surface, 2 to 3 hours. Curd will be surrounded by translucent yellow whey.

3. Set Up Colander

homemade ricotta
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

Set a colander over a large, deep bowl; line with a double layer of damp cheesecloth, leaving a 6-inch overhang.

4. Scoop Curds

homemade ricotta
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

Using a fine wire-mesh strainer, gently scoop curds in large pieces, and transfer to prepared colander. 

5. Drain Ricotta

homemade ricotta
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

Drain ricotta at room temperature; reserve whey for another use, if desired.

6. Twist Ricotta

homemade ricotta
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

Gather corners of cheesecloth, and lift ricotta. Gently twist to squeeze out remaining clear whey. 

Get the Recipe: Homemade Fresh Ricotta
homemade ricotta
Credit: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Kathleen Cook Varner

Better with Buttermilk

While pro cheese-makers rely on rennet, an enzyme used in commercial cheesemaking, most homemade ricotta recipes call for acidic lemon juice to help form the curds, which can turn tight and rubbery. Here, buttermilk gently transforms the milk into curds and whey—and yields more than double the ricotta as compared to recipes that use lemon juice.

By Josh Miller and Paige Grandjean