Robert Alleva, Sr., proprietor of the Alleva Dairy on Grand Street in New York’s Little Italy, recently shared some of his knowledge about making fresh ricotta — the indispensable milk product for many Italian pastries. The Allevas, originally from Benevento, in southern Italy, have been in the latticini (Italian cheeses and milk products) business since 1892.
I was surprised to find that the process of making ricotta is a simple one. Alleva stated that the pH of the milk is altered from its normal 7.0 to 5.9 by the addition of lemon juice, vinegar, citric acid, or sour milk, then heated to 175 degrees. Next, the coagulated ricotta is skimmed from the surface and placed in perforated containers to drain. The longer the ricotta is “cooked” — held at the coagulating temperature — the finer and drier the curd becomes.
Rushing home with several gallons of milk, I tried the process numerous times with excellent results. You need the following equipment to make a pound of ricotta: a 5-quart stainless steel or enamel casserole, a slotted spoon or skimmer, an instant-read thermometer, a strainer or colander, and cheesecloth or a napkin. You can use the homemade ricotta on its own or in combination with commercial ricotta.