Turns out, ricotta is almost easier to make yourself than it is to buy.

(Especially if you shop at Whole Foods and drive there in which case you should watch this for a good laugh.)

My friend Mark and I embarked on ricotta-making a couple nights ago; having begun around midnight, I was tucked into bed by 1 am with a pound of fresh ricotta tucked in the fridge.

Ricotta is a fresh cheese typically made from cow’s milk – it’s essentially curdled milk (and I mean that in the best possible way) and its mild flavor and creamy texture improve many a dish from breakfast to dinner to dessert. Personally I think it should be a kitchen staple the way olive oil, butter, or Parmesan are.

Springtime, and summer, are the best times for making and eating ricotta because it’s when cows are munching on fresh green grass, so the milk tastes better. Since ricotta is essentially only milk, the quality of the final product is largely determined by the milk one uses.

So depending on where you live, take the time to search out the best quality milk you can find. I’d recommend getting it from your local farmer’s market if possible; it really does make a difference in taste if the milk is whole, not homogenized, and comes from grass-fed cows. The difference is flavor in marked.

There are a few different ways to make ricotta, here is a very easy method. You’re basically boiling milk, then adding buttermilk, skimming the curds off the top, then letting them drain for half an hour to a few hours. And voilà! You’re left with a velvety, thick fresh cheese that’s delicious in a number of ways. A few of my favorites include:

*Scrambled eggs with ricotta and chives (or parsley)
*Ricotta drizzled with honey, black pepper, and walnuts
*Ricotta gnocchi served with a simple tomato or Romesco sauce
*Prosciutto-wrapped ricotta and melon
*Penne with ricotta, tomato, and basil
*Orecchiette with peas, mint, and ricotta
*Ricotta cheesecake served with fresh berries
*Ricotta pancakes with maple syrup, jam, or berries

Fresh Ricotta

1/2 gallon milk
1 pint buttermilk
olive oil
zest of 1/2 lemon

(Makes 1 pint ricotta)

Bring the 1/2 gallon of milk to nearly a boil in a large sauce pan or stock pot. Pour in the buttermilk, turn the heat down to low, stir continuously, and lo and behold the curds will begin to form instantly before your eyes. After 2-3 minutes turn off the heat.

Line a colander or fine-meshed sieve with two layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. With a slotted spoon skim the curds from the pot and transfer to the colander. You can discard the liquid (whey) remaining in your stock pot or tell me if you know a great way to use it. Leave the cheese curds to drain for at least a half hour and up to a few hours. The whey remaining in the curds will drain into the bowl and you’ll be left with ricotta.

At this point you could be done and enjoy your ricotta, or you can continue with a couple extra steps for an added boost of flavor:

Once the ricotta has been drained, I recommend transferring to a food processor or bowl and mixing with a pinch of salt, the zest of half a lemon, and 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. I also liked cracked black pepper, but this can be added at the time of serving.

So remember, if you can buy milk, you can make ricotta. If you can buy good milk, you can make excellent ricotta.