Homemade Ricotta

Happy (belated) New Year, everyone! After 2 weeks in the U.S I'm back in Rome and in the throws of jetlag -- so much so that the barista greeted me with buonasera when I went to get my morning cappuccino, whoops -- but thankfully, I'm not due back at work until January 14th. I'm happy to be back in the Eternal City, but no trip back is ever free of mixed feelings, and this time around, they were 10x more so. At nearly 30, I am fortunate to still have both of my paternal grandparents -- Nonna Ada is 92, Nonno Jim is 97 -- and I've been lucky, spoiled even, because for the most part, neither one has ever shown much sign of their age. My nonna is sharp as a tack, switching from English to Italian with ease, making bread from scratch with authority, and giving hugs with a fierceness that you wouldn't think possible from such a tiny lady. She's doing well. 

My Nonno Jim is one of the most interesting, engaging, and wonderful people you'll ever meet. He made the journey to the tiny state of Rhode Island from the even tinier town of Grotteria (Calabria) when he was only 14 years old; the trip on the boat lasted 9 days, and he was alone. He joined his father in the U.S, where he worked in the family grocery store, attended American high school, went from being called Vincenzo to Vincent to Jim, and adjusted to life in his new country. And adjust he did; by the time he was 28, he'd founded his own company, Supreme Dairy Farms, which specialized in making Italian cheeses, with ricotta being their biggest seller. Given the many Italian immigrants in Rhode Island, plus pizzerie and Italian restaurants, there was a good market for these products, and the company took off. Nonno Jim owned and very successfully ran his business up until he was 85 years old, and true businessman that he is, loved every minute of it. He is the epitome of the American Dream, and I have told his story to anyone who will listen more times than I can count.  

In the present day, we Skype from his IPad (from letter writing to Skype -- how much he's witnessed!) and during our catch ups, he is eager to hear how work is going for me and my sister, what we've had for dinner, where we're planning to travel next. He loves to watch La Prova del Cuoco on RAI, knows more about Italian politics than the average Italian, and ardently hates Trump; at 97 his teeth are perfect, he has a good amount of hair, and the prescription in his glasses is far less than mine. His memory is incredible -- he can tell you all about his school band back in Calabria where he played the piccolo, his first moments in America, the first time he drove a car -- and he's always had the mind of someone my age rather than his. Given all this, his recent stints in and out of the hospital and now a sudden decline in his health -- including his memory and ability to speak and eat -- have been startling for all of us, jarring. He has always been a source of inspiration and confidence for me (if he had the courage to cross the ocean all alone on a boat, I can be brave enough to do anything!) and his story is, by now, a part of who I am. When in Rhode Island, I visited him nearly every day -- and, I'm happy to report, many of those days were good days for him -- but leaving him this time was difficult, far more painful than it usually is. 

I had a few ideas about what my first post of 2019 would be -- cold weather friendly lentil stew? cardamom scented cinnamon buns? cozy risotto? -- but in the end, after my visit home, I knew that I wanted to make ricotta, just like my nonno used to do. As I followed the recipe -- measured the temperature of the milk, stirred in the lemon juice, strained out the whey -- I thought a lot about him. Sure, he had made his ricotta in the U.S, and I was making mine in Italy, the very country he had left, and he had made huge batches of it every day to sell, while I was making just a small portion. But still, I felt a lot closer to him, knowing that he had carried out the same steps, and that something as simple as ricotta -- a humble, flexible cheese, so unlike over-the-top burrata or super sharp Parmesan -- had brought him so much in his adopted country. I think he would be pretty darn proud of the ricotta his granddaughter made, too -- this recipe made for ricotta that was rich and creamy and perfectly smooth, lovely eaten on toasted bread with a drizzle of olive oil, or a handful of sundried tomatoes, or along side these pickled zucchine, or dolloped on pasta -- the possibilities, I found, are endless. My favorite, however? Spread on toast and drizzled with honey and a grind or two of black pepper. I think my Nonno would approve.

This post is for you, Nonno Jim. I love you!

A couple of notes: The recipe as originally written calls for the 4 cups of whole milk; however, to make it a little richer and smoother, Deb Perelman suggests substituting some of that milk with heavy cream, which is not exactly traditional, but downright delicious (my nonno was intrigued by this addition). I liked this ricotta better with the cream than I did with all milk, but the choice is up to you. This is fresh cheese, so shouldn't be kept in the fridge too long, probably just 2 or so days. That being said, I have no idea how long it lasts, as we've gobbled up most every batch we've made (4 so far)!

HOMEMADE RICOTTA
Recipe from Tasting Table via Smitten Kitchen.
Makes 1 generous cup.

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups (875 ml) whole milk
1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy cream 
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions:
Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Heat the milk to 190°F (that would be about 88 degrees Celsius) stirring it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. 
Remove the pot from heat and add the lemon juice, then slowly stir it once or twice. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes. Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. Smitten Kitchen note: At an hour, you’ll have a tender, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese. It will firm as it cools, so do not judge its final texture by what you have in your cheesecloth. 
Discard the whey, or, if you're crafty, use it for something else (I myself will be using mine to make bread; stay tuned). Eat the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

















2 comments :

  1. Supreme Dairy! Wow! My neighborhood cheese, for as long as I remember! Also thanks for a lovely story. Not ever meeting my Italian grandparents I realize how much I missed after reading this account.

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  2. That is so nice to hear -- it really is the best cheese there is :) I'm also glad to hear you enjoyed my grandfather's story so much -- since publishing this post I have received so many lovely comments about him, which seems fitting, as a story as wonderful as his deserves to be shared with as many people as possible. A hug from Rome!

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