* Large, heavy pot (nonreactive; enamel or stainless steel is best)
* Thermometer (any kind of cooking thermometer; I use a candy thermometer)
* Cheesecloth (sold in grocery stores in the kitchen gadget aisle)
* One gallon of the best-quality whole milk you can find (It must be regular pasteurized milk; ultrapasteurized or UHT milk wonâ??t curdle.)
* 5 tablespoons white vinegar (or lemon juice)
* Salt to taste (This ranges from none, if you are going to use this for sweet dessert ricotta, to as salty as you like it. I start with 1/4 teaspoon for a ricotta that is good for eating straight or using as pasta filling.)
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Pour the milk into the pot. Heat slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally and watching for tiny bubbles to begin forming on the surface; the idea is to scald the milk, which means heating it to just before the boiling point but not actually boiling it. When the bubbles start forming, itâ??s time to put the thermometer in and monitor the temperature closely, because 180 degrees is key. When you hit 180, pull the pot off the heat and gradually add vinegar while stirring gently for about a minute. Then add the salt (if youâ??re adding salt), cover the pot, and leave it to sit unmolested for at least two hours or as long as over night.
Moisten a piece of cheesecloth and wring it out, then use it to line a colander. Place colander in sink or over another pot. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the ricotta curds from the pot (the leftover cloudy liquid is the whey). Press gently on the curds to get out the excess whey and leave them to drain; how long depends on if you desire a moist, creamy ricotta or a dry, crumbly ricotta (the latter can take several hours of draining). I prefer a creamy texture and large curds so I donâ??t press much and only drain for about 30 minutes. (Large-curd ricotta also allows you to skip the cheesecloth if your colander has relatively fine holes.) If you want small curds and/or a really dry ricotta, bundle the curds up in the cheesecloth and squeeze gently several times during draining. The more you press the ricotta, the smaller the curds will be.
Refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to a week, that is if you can stop yourself from eating it straight from the pot.