There are many rituals that revolve around food. Cooking, in and of itself, can be viewed as a ritual; a purposeful act performed in the same way, at the same time, on a daily basis.
Some recipes become so familiar that they can be executed through the memory of muscles and senses.
That is how I make ricotta.
It never occurred to me that ricotta could be made at home until I tasted a freshly-made batch of newborn curds, still warm and quivering. There was no turning back...I had to learn its' secret.
As it turned out, it is really very simple.
1 gallon whole milk (preferably raw
1 quart buttermilk
A thermometer is useful, but not
necessary, as there are visual
cues that will let you know when
Pour the milk and buttermilk into a Dutch oven or stockpot with a heavy bottom. Place over medium-high heat. As the milk heats up, curds will begin to form along the bottom of the pot. It is important that they are not allowed to stick and burn. To prevent this, gently scrape along the bottom of the pot with a heatproof rubber spatula. Do this slowly and gently, so as not to disturb the formation of curds, every few minutes. When the milk reaches 140-150 degrees F. you will begin to see very small and soft curds form, but the milk will still be white and opaque. When it reaches 160-170 degrees F, the curds will be fully formed and the milk will become whey; a translucent, yellowish liquid. The minute that you see this transformation take place, remove the pot from the heat and add 2 ice cubes. Stir the curds and whey gently and slowly a few more times, then let it sit, undisturbed for 10 minutes. Line a colander with a double layer of cheesecloth and set it over a pot or bowl into which the whey can freely drain. Ladle the curds into the colander. Let it drain for 5 minutes. If you wish to salt the ricotta, you can do so now by sprinkling up to 2 teaspoons of kosher or sea salt over the curds, and gently folding it in. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate. The ricotta is best when freshly made, but it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Heat the milk with the buttermilk as for ricotta, but continue to cook after the curds separate from the whey for another 3-5 minutes, or until it reaches 185-190 degrees F. Remove from heat and proceed with the draining and salting as directed above. Scoop curds into ring molds or a container that is perforated on the bottom to allow drainage. Fill the molds so that the curds mound up over the top. Cover with a plate and heavy weight. Transfer to refrigerator and allow the cheese to compress overnight before using.