So I'm in the middle of making a batch of fresh ricotta (that would be the same fresh ricotta that was scheduled to wind up being my famous cheese gnocchi) when the call comes in that scraps the entire evening's plans.
I am not a vengeful man. And so rather than driving to the caller's house after dark and plastering the front door with a good thick layer of formaggio, I decided to go in another direction and whip up a batch of ricotta salata, the salted and dried version of my beloved cheese. (I arrived at this decision after a long and painful discussion with an overly persistent frequent traveler friend of mine who tried to browbeat me into frying the ricotta as they do at Matricianella in Rome. It is a dish, he insists, "that makes life worth living.")
To make the ricotta, start out with a gallon of whole milk in a non-reactive pot, then gently stir in six tablespoons of distilled white vinegar. Turn the heat on very low; this means it will take a long time for the milk to heat, but it's better that way. Stir occasionally and gently until the temperature reaches around 190 degrees F.
Turn off the heat and start scooping.
A cheesecloth-lined colander does the trick.
At this point you're all set if all you want is fresh ricotta; the only thing left to do would be to salt it to taste and let it drain a little while.
To make the ricotta salata, though, the cheese must be drained further. I tied the cheesecloth with string and hung it from the kitchen faucet.
After about an hour the cheese had sufficiently dried.
At this point you add about a tablespoon of kosher salt and mix with a spoon.
Then it's time to pack the cheese into a mold with drainage. I used these tins that I saved from fresh store-bought ricotta.
Weight it down for another hour, occasionally applying pressure to get out as much moisture as possible.
After popping the cheese out of the mold, all that's left to do is apply more salt. Very lightly sprinkle kosher salt all over the cheese once a day for about a week, keeping it covered in the fridge the whole time. More moisture will seep out of the cheese during this time, so keep draining it off. After you're done salting, keep the cheese covered in the fridge for another week or two and that ought to do it.
Just one other thing. If the cheese winds up too salty (as this one did) I place it in a bowl filled with water and allow the salt to leech out for as long as it takes to suit my taste. This batch soaked for about 24 hours, and I changed the water three times.
Then my friend Gloede showed up and sprinkled some of the ricotta salata on a caramelized onion and prosciutto pizza he was making in my wood-fired oven.
And I forgot all about the guests who did not come for my gnocchi dinner.