I was originally inspired to try making some of my own cheeses after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, which suggested the book Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses (actually I think it suggested an earlier version, but that's the one I ended up getting) as a good beginner guide to making cheese. I've had this book for a while now, but have been kind of intimidated by all the technical terms and special equipment or ingredients you need for some of the recipes (what the heck is the difference between butter muslin and cheesecloth, anyway?).
Lately, I've been getting a hankering for lasagna though. I managed to spring for some mozzarella cheese, after much hemming and hawing about whether I should make it, but I couldn't bear to part with the money it would cost to buy the ricotta for my lasagna. Sure, I could use cottage cheese as a cheaper option, but it just isn't the same! So, finally, I made a deal with myself that I could have my lasagna, if I made the ricotta. Making ricotta was on my to-do list for a few days before I found the time and the courage to do it though. Tonight was that night. I still wasn't completely comfortable with the directions in Home Cheese Making though, so I looked into some other sources as well and cobbled together the following:
Dissolve 1 tsp citric acid in 1/4 cup of water (other directions I saw said you could also use 6 tbsp vinegar or 1/2 cup of lemon juice. I might try one of those next time!). Pour a gallon of whole milk and the acid mixture into a large pot and heat to somewhere in the neighborhood of 185-200 degrees. Remove from heat and let stand undisturbed for 10-15 minutes. Line a colander with "butter muslin" (I cheated and used a clean piece of cotton fabric I'd bought for some random project years ago and never made). You don't want to use cheesecloth for this, since the holes are much too big. Either carefully ladle the curds (chunks floating on top) onto the cloth or just dump the whole thing (different directions said different things) onto it. Tie the corners of the cloth together to form a bag and hang (nothing said where to hang it from, so I hung it from the kitchen sink faucet) for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (or more?), depending on how much of the whey you got in there, until you reach the desired consistency.
So there you have it. My first cheesemaking adventure. The various sources all seemed to agree that it lasts for a week or so in the fridge, so I'll check it out in lasagna sometime in the next few days before giving it my final blessing!