If you’re feeling like you’ve read this post before, you’re not having déjà vu: the photo I used for this post in June looks nearly identical to the one above, and with good reason. It’s basically the same meal. But more complicated, as so often seems to be the case with my life.
We were at the grocery store on Saturday morning and I saw, unusually for Fred Meyer, a few little packages of ground veal in the meat department, so I snapped them up and decided to make pork and veal meatballs. But of course there was no ground pork to be had, so I got some shoulder steaks and determined to grind my own. We have a nice electric meat grinder (most useful for grinding up whole chickens—bones and all—to make gravy for ferrets, by the way), so this wasn’t a big deal. We also got some lovely Angus NY strip steaks, and some spinach-feta-chicken sausages.
But when I sat down to decide on a meatball recipe, the more I looked, the more I realized I just wanted to make more of those pork-ricotta meatballs from Food and Wine, using a blend of pork and veal. The problem? No ricotta for the ricotta meatballs. I tried in vain to find another recipe that sounded good to me, and then gave up and walked over to the little market for whole milk. To make my own ricotta cheese.
I’ve made ricotta once before, using the buttermilk method. This time I had no buttermilk, as the little market doesn’t carry it, so I used distilled vinegar instead. I didn’t get as much yield with the vinegar method, so I would definitely say buttermilk is preferable.
Ricotta is insanely easy to make. The real reason to make it is because it’s obviously fresher and much better tasting than what you can get in a tub, at least if you use better milk than what they sell at the little market. Unfortunately for us, every time I make ricotta, it is because I need it for a recipe, but we’re all out and can’t (or else are too lazy to) get to the real grocery store.
The other nice thing about making your own ricotta cheese is that you can drain it to achieve the exact level of creaminess or crumbliness that you need. The first time I made it, I let it drain for close to an hour, and it was pretty solid; this time I was in a bit of a hurry to get the meatballs going since they take 2.5 hours in the oven, so my ricotta drained for nearly half an hour and was the perfect soft texture for mixing into ground meat.
Fresh Ricotta Cheese
1 gallon whole milk
1/4 C vinegar (or 1 quart buttermilk)
1/2 C heavy cream (optional)
Slowly heat the milk (together with the buttermilk and cream, if using) until it reaches 175F and just barely starts to bubble around the edges of the pot. Do this slowly, in a heavy-bottomed pot, to avoid scorching the milk on the bottom. When your milk is between 170-180F, add the vinegar, if using, and stir gently. The curds should start separating from the whey; it will eventually look like lumps of ricotta floating in a watery yellow liquid. If your whey is still milky in appearance, you may be able to coax out a few more curds by adding another tablespoon or so of vinegar. Turn off the heat at this point, and have ready a colander or sieve lined with cheesecloth or several layers of paper towel; I set mine over a large bowl to catch the whey as it drains off. Gently ladle or pour your ricotta curds into the lined colander, trying not to break them up too much in the process. Allow your ricotta to drain for at least 30 minutes, or until you have achieved your desired firmness.
If you’re interested in trying this very cool trick for yourself, here are a few of the resources I pulled from: