Spinach lasagna is a family favorite dinner. I make it with cottage cheese and mozzarella cheese. I knew, from living in China, that cheese is expensive in Asia, but I was prepared to pay the price. Finding the ingredients in Taipei proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. I found cottage cheese at the American Club, but at about $30 US, for a small container, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. I soon found ricotta cheese at Costco. It was still expensive, but not outrageous, so, I decided to use it as a substitute in our favorite dish, and it was richly delicious. I regularly found the ricotta at Costco for the first month we lived in Taipei. Lasagna noodles were harder to find, and also expensive, so I ordered a case of no-boil lasagna noodles from Amazon. Then, at my next trip to Costco- the ricotta shelf was bare. The ricotta stayed missing from the shelves for about 10 months before reappearing. I bought several containers, which we used over the next two months. Then, when I went to restock… No ricotta. No ricotta for over a year… Friends told me that making ricotta cheese is not complicated, but once they started talking about cheese cloth, my eyes blurred over and I ruled out homemade cheese as an option. As we near our move from post to post, I eyed the pile of lasagna noodle boxes, in the kitchen cabinet, with a cloud of frustration and annoyance. Drastic measures were in order. After hearing Lian Dolan describe, on my favorite podcast The Satellite Sisters, the simplicity of throwing a bunch of dairy products into a big pot to make ricotta, I decided that I’d give it a try. Actually, I decided to ask my fantastic household helper, Rica, to help me with the process. She loves to cook and appreciates chances to try new things. I, in turn, appreciate her very much, especially because I don’t enjoy cooking. We talked about the process, debated how to find cheesecloth, and then set to work; and by that I mean Rica went to the store to find cheesecloth, for which she substituted Chinese dumpling cloth. I printed out a recipe and Rica made the magic happen. The process is simple and not even too time consuming. The recipe is below. Finished Product Homemade Ricotta Cheese Makes 2 cups What You Need Ingredients 1/2 gallon whole milk 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar 1 teaspoon salt, optional Equipment 4-quart pot Instant read thermometer or candy thermometer Measuring spoons Cheese cloth Strainer Mixing bowl Slotted spoon Instructions
- Warm the milk to 200°F: Pour the milk into a 4-quart pot and set it over medium heat. Let it warm gradually to 200°F, monitoring the temperature with an instant read thermometer. The milk will get foamy and start to steam; remove it from heat if it starts to boil.
- Add the vinegar and salt: Remove the milk from heat. Pour in the vinegar (or citric acid) and the salt. Stir gently to combine.
- Let the milk sit for 10 minutes: Let the pot of milk sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. After this time, the milk should have separated into clumps of milky white curds and thin, watery, yellow-colored whey — dip your slotted spoon into the mix to check. If you still see a lot of un-separated milk, add another tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and wait a few more minutes.
- Strain the curds: Set a strainer over a bowl and line the strainer with cheese cloth. Scoop the big curds out of the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the strainer. Pour the remaining curds and the whey through the strainer. (Removing the big curds first helps keep them from splashing and making a mess as you pour.)
- Drain the curds for 10 to 60 minutes: Let the ricotta drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.
- Use or store the ricotta: Fresh ricotta can be used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.