Years ago I visited an Italian-American family at their sprawling complex in Central California. Nestled at the base of the foothills just a few miles from the beach, it was a captivating enclave of Italian architecture, agriculture, and tradition.
The main house and surrounding out buildings were decidedly Tuscan in origin with their plaster walls in umber tones, russet colored tiled roofs and classic lines. Much attention to detail was evident in the kitchen which was at once grand and intimate.
Unlike many modern kitchens that are designed to look Mediterranean with their gleaming granite countertops and faux finished cabinets; gorgeous showcases that are rarely used, it was delightfully obvious that this kitchen was routinely filled with generations of family members preparing what I can only imagine were fantastic feasts.
The property was populated with olive trees, row upon row of gnarled grapevines grew in immaculately tended rows, and a variety of fruit trees were clustered together in seemingly impromptu orchards. It was late summer and the garden was resplendent with tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and squash. Sunflowers stood tall and proud; offering a bright, sunny welcome to the visitor.
Properties like this do not sprout up overnight; they are lovingly created over the years with each generation adding its own personal stamp to the overall design.
Just a short 45 minute drive from the high-tech capital of Silicon Valley, this property, this HOME, was an old world masterpiece steeped in tradition, family, and love.
My business attire of a severely tailored suit and high heels felt instantly inappropriate. I yearned to kick off my shoes, don a flowing peasant dress and start cooking. I imagined myself is a straw hat gathering fruits and vegetables, harvesting honey from the bee hives, picking olives and grapes. I conjured up romantic notions of a life where I canned tomatoes, made my own wine, pasta, olive oil, and cheese. I saw myself gathering my family and friends around one of the many enormous farm-style tables to enjoy food that was grown, processed, and prepared all on that very property.
I don’t come from a big Italian family and truth be told I possess more of a black thumb than a green one, but that magical day allowed me to dream. It may not be a lifestyle that I am totally suited for but it is one I can aspire to.
When I make my own ricotta cheese, I am transported in my mind back to that day. While the process is simplicity itself, I feel somehow earthy, old-world-like, and traditional. I feel a sense of pride in taking exceptional ingredients and transforming them into something delectable.
If all of this seems corny and overly romantic to you then just know this – this recipe makes darn good cheese!
Recipe Notes: Since this recipe is so simple I feel it is important to start with really quality ingredients. I use organic milk, cream, and lemons. For the salt I use kosher salt, if you are using table salt, cut the amount by about half. Some recipes call for just lemon juice or vinegar – I like the combination of the two. Whatever you do, please I beg you; do not use lemon juice from a bottle!
Curds and whey
Straining the cheese
Homemade Ricotta Cheese Recipe
3 cups organic whole milk
1 cup organic heavy cream
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ tablespoons white wine vinegar
1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Line a sieve with 2 layers of dampened cheese cloth and set over a large bowl.
Pour the milk and cream into a heavy, non-reactive pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the vinegar and lemon juice and stir gently twice. Let the pot sit, undisturbed, for 5 – 10 minutes or until the mixture curdles. Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer and let sit for 1 – 2 hours. After 1 hour you will have a creamy, tender ricotta good for spreading on some gluten free bread, crackers, or whatever your heart desires. After 2 hours, the ricotta will be drier and firmer which is good for things like cheesecake. Discard the whey (the liquid) that has collected in the bowl.
Serve the ricotta right away or store in an airtight container for up to 4 or 5 days.
This naturally gluten free recipe makes a generous cup of fresh ricotta cheese.
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