Unless you're already canning, brewing, and fermenting your own foods, the thought of making homemade cheese probably sounds intimidating. Half of you are probably thinking, “Don't I need a cheese press and a cave for that?” And the other half, “Wait, what's a cheese press?”
While learning to make some cheeses well could, in fact, be a complicated lifelong endeavor, a simple ricotta cheese can be whipped up quickly with tools you probably already have in your kitchen.
With only about a half an hour of active prep time and common grocery store ingredients, homemade ricotta makes a wonderful “starter” cheese. Even if you never graduate to more involved cheese-making, it's so rich and creamy—and so unlike anything you've ever bought from a store—that you'll find yourself craving it over and over again.
As with any home preservation project, though, ingredients matter. Everyone should research and come to their own conclusions about unpasteurized—or raw—milk, but it it's right for your family and you can get your hands on some it makes the most amazing cheese.
If you don't want to use raw milk, at least grab a gallon of local Iwig or Hildebrand milk. Whole makes the creamiest cheese, but 2% will do in a pinch. Also, feel free to experiment with goat's milk or sheep's milk if you have access to that.
Whatever you do, don't use “ultra-pasteurized” or “shelf stable” milk. The high temperature processing damages the milk's ability to curd, which is an essential part of the cheese-making process.
We like to eat our homemade ricotta on slices of Wheatfield's baguette with toppings like cucumber, grape tomatoes, honey, and jam. If you have the cheese already prepared, it makes for a quick, cool dinner that's just perfect for nibbling on the back porch with a glass of cold white wine.