Food & Drink

Fresh Ricotta and Farmer's Cheese

Cooking with Crag's Fresh Ricotta and Farmer's Cheese. Credits: Craig Thiebaud

One of the most enjoyable culinary experiments I’ve delved into of late certainly is cheese making.  The drawback to making most cheeses stems from the fact that you need chemicals such as rennet, citric acid, etc. to make most cheeses.  There are also quite a few cheeses that need to be molded and aged, which takes more equipment and lots of time.  However, ricotta and farmer’s cheese fall into a ‘fresh cheese’ category that simply require dairy and an acid and they are very easy to make.  There are three components to both cheeses:  dairy, acids such as vinegar and lemon juice, and fine sea salt.  Once you make these easy cheeses, if you are like me, you will never buy them again…they are that much better than store-bought and, let’s face it, three ingredients are much better than the other stuff typically added to most store-bought cheese. 

Like anything else, the overall taste of the cheese will be determined by the quality of the ingredients.  So, use the best dairy products you can find and afford.  This is especially true for cheese as the yield amounts can vary widely based on the quality of the ingredients.  Of note for cheese making:  stay away from dairy products that are ultra-pasteurized.  I won’t get into technical and chemical issues with making cheese, but the high temperatures of ultra-pasteurization destroy chemicals in the dairy that are beneficial and necessary for making cheese.  Nutrients are also destroyed during ultra-pasteurization.  This typically means that most organic dairy products can’t be used.  If you can get your hands on organic dairy that hasn’t been ultra-pasteurized, then great.  However, I’ve looked all over the place and the best I’ve found is simply local dairy products that do not use antibiotics or growth hormones and are simply pasteurized at traditional temperatures.  OK, enough of that!

In terms of equipment, you will need some cheese cloth or butter muslin for straining.  You can find cheese cloth at most grocery stores or retailers that sell kitchen items.  Butter muslin is more difficult to find but it might be worth looking for it if you plan to make these and other cheeses fairly often.  It’s very fine and much thicker than typical cheese cloth.

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I paired the ricotta with some roasted striped beets, golden raisins, and toasted pine nuts with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of red pepper flake.  The farmer’s cheese is paired with crusty bread, pumpkin seed oil, and pumpkin seeds.  I found the pumpkin seed oil at Kings.  You can also find it on-line.  I think rye bread goes great with farmer’s cheese, but you can use whatever suits your taste.  These cheeses can obviously be used in a ton of different ways or enjoyed simply on their own. 

A couple of parting thoughts:  you can increase the recipes for both cheeses.  For the ricotta, one cup of cream to three cups of whole milk is the ratio to go by.  You can increase portion as long as you use that ratio and increase the amount of lemon juice in kind.  The farmer’s cheese can be doubled, etc. as well.  The yield amounts for the cheese will vary based on a number of factors including the type and quality of the dairy used.  I was able to yield a couple cups of cheese out of each recipe.


For the Ricotta:

2 Cups of heavy cream

6 Cups whole milk

Juice of 3-4 medium lemons

Sea Salt to taste

For the Farmer’s Cheese:

Half gallon whole milk

1/3 Cup white distilled vinegar (though any vinegar will work), plus a bit more if necessary

1 Teaspoon fine sea salt (or to taste)

For the remainder:

2-4 Slices crusty bread

2 Beets

A few pumpkin seeds for sprinkling

A few toasted pine nuts for sprinkling

A few golden raisins for sprinkling

Drizzle of olive oil

Drizzle of pumpkin seed oil

Sea Salt to taste

Pinch red pepper flakes

A few Italian parsley leaves and a couple of chives, coarsely chopped


For the Ricotta:

  • Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place in sink. 
  • Combine the cream and milk in a heavy saucepan.  Turn the heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring often to avoid scorching or burning. 
  • Once at a boil, turn the heat off and add the lemon juice.  Allow the mixture to sit for a minute and then pour the whole thing over the strainer lined with the cheesecloth. 
  • Allow to drain until the excess liquid is removed.  Scoop cheese out of cheesecloth and either serve warm or chill in refrigerator in an airtight container for around a week.

For the Farmer’s cheese:

  • Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place in sink.
  • Place milk in a heavy bottomed pan and set to medium heat.  Bring milk to boil, stirring often to avoid scorching or burning.
  • Once at a boil, turn heat off and add the vinegar.  Allow mixture to combine for a couple minutes, gently stirring every once in a while.  You should see the milk solids separate from the greenish colored whey.  If that doesn’t happen, add a touch more vinegar and wait a couple more minutes, repeating the process.
  • Strain the mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer.  Run some cold water over the cheese briefly to cool it slightly.  Season with 1 Teaspoon of fine sea salt.
  • Allow to strain for around an hour.  After the hour, gather the cheesecloth together and gently squeeze the cloth so the cheese drains a bit more.
  • Allow cheese to cool and then chop coarsely.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for around a week.

For the Beets:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Peel beets
  • Drizzle a bit of olive oil to coat beets.  Sprinkle with sea salt
  • Roast for 25 minutes to an hour or so until cooked through and caramelized (time will vary depending on size of beets).

To Serve:

For Ricotta:  Slice beets into rings (around ¼ inch) and stack a few on a platter.  Spoon ricotta cheese over the beets.  Then sprinkle sea salt to taste.  Add the golden raisins and pine nuts to top the cheese.  Sprinkle a pinch of red pepper flake and drizzle olive oil over the top of everything.  Garnish with a couple of coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves and a couple of coarsely chopped chives.

For Farmer’s Cheese:  Arrange two or three slices of bread on platter.  Spoon farmers cheese on top of bread, allowing it to spill over a bit.  Drizzle pumpkin seed oil over the top (a little goes a long way here so drizzle lightly).  Add a few pumpkin seeds over the top.  Season with sea salt to taste.  Garnish with a couple of coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves.



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