Ricotta — Whey Fun!

Finished ricotta ready to eat!

I finally found a use for that greenish-looking liquid, otherwise known as whey, left in my pot after skimming off curds of mozzarella. So, what is it? How do I use the leftovers from making cheese? Well, by making more cheese, of course. 

Traditionally, ricotta is made from the whey left over from creating other cheeses. I did not know this until last year when a friend of mine gave me a ricotta recipe (below) that can only be used with leftover whey. Before, I made ricotta with a different recipe (also included below). I’ve found that either recipe works perfectly well. Obviously, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you use a gallon (or more) of milk to make, say, mozzarella, and then use the leftovers for ricotta. However, sometimes, you may not have the time to do both. 

You can see the ricotta curds separating from the whey.

Because I’m half Italian, I always use ricotta for cuisine such as lasagna or pizza. Homemade ricotta in Italian dishes is especially scrumptious. However, there are plenty of recipes out there that make good use of ricotta, including pancakes and cheesecake. I’ve also used it as an extra topping for bruschetta — yummy! 

I’ll now include both ricotta recipes. Please note a couple of things about the traditional ricotta recipe. Whatever you use to line your colander with must have very tiny holes. I used my regular cheesecloth at first, and it did not catch the ricotta. I had to strain it again using a tea towel. I found that an old, thin, T-shirt also works well. I’m sure there is a finer cheesecloth that would have been better. The curds of ricotta are very small. Realize that straining the ricotta will take a long time. I ended up scraping much of it off the cloth and into my container at the end. Also, the recipe calls for a lot of whey. You can use less whey, just remember to use less vinegar accordingly and know that you will get less ricotta in return. 

I use a cheesecloth layered many times to strain the ricotta. Clips help me fasten the cheesecloth in place on my colander.
Traditional Whey Ricotta
Makes 1-3 cups 
  • 2 ½ gallons of fresh whey*
  • ⅓ cup white or apple cider vinegar
  1. Pour whey into a large pot and heat until it begins to boil.
  2. Turn off heat, stir in vinegar, let stand for several minutes. 
  3. Line a large colander with butter muslin and set it inside a large bowl or pot. Pour the mixture through the colander. Let it drain until the ricotta has a thick consistency. Sometimes the curd will turn out very fine and take a couple of hours to drain. 
  4. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the ricotta off the cheesecloth.
  5. Place in covered container and refrigerate.

*This ricotta must be made immediately after you make cheese, while the whey is fresh. You cannot refrigerate the whey and use later; it won’t work. The amount of ricotta will vary depending on what type of cheese the whey is from.

Here I’ve tied my cheesecloth up to let it finish draining over a bowl. It’s not a very sophisticated method.
Makes about 1 pound
  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon cheese salt or kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon calcium chloride mixed with ¼ cup cold, sterilized water (Only needed if using homogenized milk.)
  1. Stir milk, cream, and lemon juice together in a pot with a metal spoon. Warm mixture to 170°F over medium-low heat. Monitor with a thermometer, and stir only once or twice so not to make the curds too small. Add the calcium chloride, if using.
  2. Increase the heat gradually until the mixture reaches 200°F. Be sure to stop before boiling point. Your curds should resemble a creamy, custardy mass at this point.
  3. Remove pot from heat, and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a colander, drainer, or large sieve with butter muslin or a double layer of cheesecloth.
  4. Ladle the curds into the colander and allow to drain for at least 20 minutes. For a firmer curd, allow to drain an additional 20-30 minutes.
  5. Transfer curds to a container and stir in salt with a metal spoon.
  6. Store covered container in refrigerator, and use within a week.

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