We are making homemade ricotta cheese today, based on a recipe from The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery. This simple stove-top recipe requires only three ingredients: milk, vinegar, and salt. Fresh ricotta is easy and delicious, and is great addition to homemade pizza, pasta, or even just spread on toast!


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Our recipe for ricotta:


  • 8 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice or distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

*If using leftover milk like we do in the video, the ratio is roughly 2/3 Tbsp acid to 1 cup milk, although we had success with 1/2 Tbsp vinegar to 1 cup milk. Add salt to taste, but be careful not to over salt it!

Heat the milk over medium heat to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure milk doesn’t boil–should start to foam though towards end of heating period. Use a candy thermometer clipped to the edge to monitor, and stir occasionally so bottom doesn’t burn. Once milk has reached 200 degrees, remove from heat and add lemon juice/vinegar and salt. Stir and let sit for about 10 minutes. By now, the curds should have separated from the whey (the curds will look like white clumps and the whey will be a yellow-tinged liquid). Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Line with cheesecloth. Pour whey and curds through strainer, and let sit 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how dry you like your cheese. Squeeze any excess liquid and put cheese into container for later use or eat immediately. Will keep in refrigerator for about one week.


The recipe we use is a little simpler than those from The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery. There are two similar recipes, but both use cultured, or clabbered, milk instead of our quick trick with acid.


Excerpts from “The Pasture”:


        Mrs. Thelma Earp makes a different kind of cheese. It can be eaten right away. In fact, it was so good that we wound up taking half a cake with us in the car and nibbling on it all the way home. Before we got to her house, she had clabbered the milk and had it waiting in the refrigerator. To do this, she took whole milk, allowed the cream to rise, skimmed it off, and made butter. Then she added 2 to 3 tablespoons of buttermilk per gallon of skimmed milk and let it sit out for 2 days to sour. She put this in the refrigerator to await use.

         When we arrived, she went right to work, pouring 2 gallons of the clabbered milk into a pan and heating it on the stove until it was a little hotter than lukewarm. She said it should be pretty hot, but not boiling, and not so hot that it would burn your hands. Once the clabbered milk was thoroughly heated, she poured it into a strainer made with a cotton cloth pinned over a bucket with clothespins. She then gathered the corners of the cloth and squeezed the whey through the cloth, leaving the curd. “The best thing to do with the whey, now, is feed it to the hogs,” she said, laughing.

         She then put the curds in a bowl and added 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and a raw egg. (She prefers barnyard eggs to store-bought ones, as they make the cheese yellower.) She mixed it all in with her hands, readying it for cooking. Then she put a lump of butter about the size of a large hen egg into a big iron frying pan and melted it. She prefers a wood cookstove because it heats more evenly and slowly. When the butter was melted, she added curds and kept turning them in the pan over medium heat. When all the curds were melted enough to form a cake, she put them into a dish to cool. As they cooled, they formed a cake.


Cottage Cheese

       We asked Mrs. Harriet Echols to tell us how she makes cottage cheese. Below are her directions, with some additional comments from Mrs. Nora Garland.

        To begin the process of making cottage cheese, pour about a gallon of raw (unpasteurized) whole milk into an enameled or metal pan. Any amount of milk may be used. The amount used here is what is preferred by Harriet Echols for her family. Mrs. Echols puts her pan of milk on the back of the wood stove in the winter or on a kitchen table during warm weather, so that it can sour slowly. This process may only take one day, or perhaps two, according to the temperature. Mrs. Echols does not heat the milk at all before it clabbers. When on the stove, it is not over direct heat—only in a warm lace.)

         After the milk clabbers, the cream is lifted off and refrigerated. The cream may be used later as sour cream in any recipe. The skimmed, clabbered milk is then heated over a low fire until it curdles. It is removed from the heat and poured into a colander or cheesecloth to drain all the water. This usually takes a couple of hours. It may also be hung in a cloth overnight. Mrs. Nora Garland remembers that she put the curdled milk into a clean flour sack and let it drain overnight outside.

         Both Mrs. Garland and Mrs. Echols told us they would work the cheese by putting it back into a pan or bowl and squeezing it with their hands or a spoon or spatula, getting out any remaining water. Mrs. Echols warned us not to work the cheese too vigorously or get the curds too fine. A little salt may be sprinkled into taste, and to make the cheese creamier some of the sour cream may be mixed in with it. The cottage cheese is then packed in small containers and refrigerated. It will keep several weeks in the refrigerator.


~Kami Ahrens, Assistant Curator