Recipe: Easy Homemade Ricotta Cheese By Microwave And by Stove

Cheese is all the rage in Korea lately with both consumption rates skyrocketing and varieties expanding in the past decade. This is in stark contrast to the period before when a majority of Koreans found cheese to be odorous and off-putting... which is a bit odd considering we can down things like cheonggukjang (fermented soybean paste) and hongeohwe (fermented skate) without any issue.

Among the "in" foods for the younger crowd these days is house-made ricotta cheese which is usually placed over salad and served with bread. A number of popular brunch spots and Western-like cafes have popped up all over Seoul which features house made ricotta cheese that draws huge crowds and long wait lines. The Longbread chain does a version of this which I wrote about previously. 

Most of these ricotta cheese salads run 10,000+ won a pop which fetches even higher prices with addition of "exotic" ingredients like blueberry (which is almost always made from frozen berries). There's no denying these soft, creamy cheeses are quite lovely but I certainly didn't see why anyone had to shell out so much money for them while waiting in insane lines. 

As I found from my research online, ricotta cheese is one of the easiest cheeses to make and one that a cheese making novice, such as myself, had no trouble doing. 

Traditional ricotta cheese is made by boiling whey- the protein rich, by-product liquid from making other cheeses. But this cheating "ricotta"-cheese-but-technically-not is made from store-bought milk which is heated with a bit of vinegar to separate the whey and curd and letting the curd harden into the ricotta cheese. 

There's a number of instructions online on making this cheating ricotta with slight variations in method and practice but these are the two simplest ways- one by stove top and the other by microwave- that I've found produces the steadiest results. Your cheese will last about a week or so fine in the fridge (if they're not gone by then).

Homemade "Ricotta" Cheese

You'll need:
- 1 liter of Milk (regular or whole but not nonfat)
- 3 tbsp of Vinegar 
- 1/2 tsp of Salt (more or less to taste)
- 1 large Cheesecloth
- 1 large metal Sieve

For microwave version:
- 1 large Microwavable Bowl

For stove top version:
- 1 large Pot

Some notes before beginning:
- Sorry nonfat milk drinkers, you'll need the fat to produce the cheese not to mention the taste is just that much better with a bit of love from the fat
- You can substitute vinegar for lemon juice or buttermilk even but vinegar will produce the most consistent results
- I'm highlighting two versions to make the cheese but I actually like to do both versions with the same batch to maximize my results. Fiddle and see what, or which, works best for you

Vinegar, milk, and cheese are all you need to produce some quick and easy cheese

To make by microwave:

1. In a large, clean, and dry microwaveable bowl, pour in the milk, vinegar, and salt and give a quick stir.

2. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, get your cheesecloth and sieve ready by placing the cheesecloth over the sieve with a bowl underneath to catch the liquid whey. 

4. After 4 minutes, give the milk mixture a stir and you should see the curds and whey separating. If it's still looking a little too combined, pop it back in a microwave for a minute. You may also want to add a few more drops of vinegar if the whey and curds aren't separating well. Repeat until most or fully separated.

Curds separating from the whey

Once much of the milk mixture is separated, spoon or carefully pour the mixture over the cheesecloth to let the whey pass through.

The cheese curds will be a bit soggy initially after separating from the whey. How soft/hardened you want your cheese is up to you in terms of how long you let it drain. If you want it a little more soft (such as for a spread), let it drain for 15-20 minutes. If you prefer it more clumpy (such as for salads), let it drain up to an hour.

This is also the step in which you can taste and adjust the final salt content to your liking. You can even mix in some fresh minced herbs for added flavors though the cheese will likely spoil faster.

At this point, you should have the leftover whey liquid. What I like to do is dump it into a pot and heat up to do the same curd and whey separating which I found maximized how much cheese I can get from the milk. The steps to make it by stove top are as below:

To make by stove top: 

1. Pour your milk (or whey mixture if you're doing this a second time) into a pot with the salt and heat on medium high until tiny bubbles begin to form. You DON'T want to bring this mixture to a rolling boil.

Once you see tiny bubbles beginning to form, slowly add in the vinegar and stir while turning off the heat. You'll see the curds and whey beginning to separate. Keep stirring until the curds have all floated to the top and the whitish-yellowish whey is visible below it.

Curds and whey separated after stirring in vinegar.

2. Scoop out the curds onto your cheesecloth over the metal sieve and let the whey pass through. Again, how hard or soft you want your cheese depends on how long you let it drain. After you let it drain to the consistency of your choice, place the cheesecloth with the cheese in an airtight bag and keep refrigerated until consumption.

Curds collected

Leftover whey

I was a bit stumped on what to do with the leftover whey but there's a whole lot of ways you can use them which you can read about here.

As for the cheese, you'll have a good cup or so of it.

Mmmm cheese...

You can use the cheese as spreads for crackers or cut up vegetables.

They're great smeared on toast with a drizzle of honey or marmalade...

Yuza marmalade and ricotta cheese toast

Honey and ricotta cheese toast

But I especially love them piled on salads.

Glorious salads with just a touch of creamy goodness.

Truly worth the (little) effort.


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