Each time when you make cheese, you end up with a lot of whey i.e., The nutritious liquid left over from curdled milk when the curds are removed. Whey contains the water-soluble proteins, vitamins, and minerals in the milk. And there are many things you can do with this leftover whey. You can use it in bread baking and soup stock, and even to cook pasta. You can even drink whey plain or sweetened. And in a pinch it can be used to ripen your cheese if you are out of culture (* You cannot use whey that has been used for Ricotta or Paneer for this).
One of the really neat things about making cheese is that almost every time you make a hard cheese you can also make Ricotta. Ricotta is Italian, meaning “to cook again”. It is a soft, smooth, fresh, unripened Italian cheese usually made from the whey of goat, cow or sheep milk.
Ricotta is made by using heat to precipitate – separate out the remaining albumin protein from the whey left over from making lactic acid/rennet precipitated cheeses. Usually recipes call for the use of an acid, such as vinegar in precipitating the curds. I have found, that in most cases, due to the fact that you ripen the milk as you make your hard cheese, the whey has enough acid on it’s own and does not need the extra vinegar. I also find that leaving the vinegar out creates a smoother cheese. If you use the vinegar, the cheese will tend to be slightly grainy. Ricotta is not a high yield cheese, but it is worth the effort. Many recipes call for the addition of some whole milk to increase the yield, but I find this effects the texture – makes it grainier and I do not recommend it. I prefer my Ricotta – smooth.
* Note: That you cannot make Ricotta from the whey left over from making an acid precipitated cheese such as Paneer/ Queso Blanco or whole milk Ricotta. Reason being, you have already precipitated out all the albumin protein the milk has to give using acid and heat and there is nothing left over in the remaining whey to make whey Ricotta.
You can use your homemade Ricotta in almost any recipe that calls for cottage cheese. It can be used instead of cream cheese to make cheesecake. You can also stir in some herbs and eat it on crackers.
Traditional Ricotta Recipe, using only left over Whey
Making Ricotta is very simple. Over direct heat, heat the hard cheese whey to 200°. By the time it has reached this temperature you will see very tiny white particles – the albumin protein, floating in the whey. The heat and acid from the ripe whey has precipitated the protein. You can add a little vinegar at this point if you really think it necessary ( 1/4 Cup. per 2 gallons of whey), it is up to you as it would not affect the Ricotta.
Line a colander with very fine cheesecloth, called “butter muslin”. You must use a very fine cloth here, or your cheese will pass through the regular cloth. If you do not have fine cheesecloth, use a clean cotton cloth. Place the colander over a big pot so you can save the whey and carefully pour the whey into the colander. Be very careful because the liquid is hot. Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together and hang the ricotta to drain for a couple hours.
When it has drained, place the ricotta in a bowl and add salt to taste. You will find that the Ricotta made from the whey of different cheeses has different tastes and textures. In my opinion, Feta makes the strongest taste as the taste increases as it ages in the fridge. Whereas, Mozzarella makes the best. Your Ricotta will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge. Enjoy!