Cheese-making is one of my favourite things. It can be a real challenge finding soft cheeses that are dairy-free and nut-free. I have a few variations of ricotta, made several different ways and with a couple different bases. My coconut ricotta is great for a cheese board, but doesn't cook especially well. The whipped almond ricotta is perfect in doughnuts but is not a safe option for everyone. This recipe covers all the bases. The ricotta works just like dairy-based in that is great in pastas like ravioli or lasagna, it tastes great spread on toast or crackers, and can be made sweet or savoury. And the nice part is you can use almost any dairy-free milk that you like. I definitely find the fattier milks work better though--avoid rice milk, as I have not gotten a thick enough curd using it. Soy works beautifully here, as does almond and coconut. I've had success using just sunflower seed milk and a combo of sunflower seed and hemp for my nut-allergic loved ones. Play around and see what works for you--the method is the key here. You must be patient and gentle with your mixture. As well, I use a cheese mold but you can easily line a mesh strainer with cheese cloth for your final step.
Let's get cheesy.
5 cups of dairy-free milk (I like to use a combo of hempseed and almond but go with what is safe)
juice and zest of a large lemon (approx 1/8 - 1/4 cup of juice...you can also use bottled lemon juice which I find has a higher acid concentration and helps with curdling)
1 pinch of salt
Prepare your strainer by lining a mesh colander with cheese cloth and placing it over a large bowl. Depending on the fat content of the milk you are using, there can be a lot of whey produced, so use a large enough bowl to catch the liquid without having to disturb your mixture as it strains. Set aside.
Pour your milk and a generous pinch of salt into a large pot, and turn your burner on a low heat setting (I go with 2-3.5 on my induction top...super low and slow is the goal). Let it heat for about 3 mins then stir very slowly ONCE around the clock only. Stirring it too much will break up the proteins and prevent curdling so BE GENTLE here. Continue to heat at the low temperature for another approximately 10 mins. Give it another stir, one time around slowly and gently, then check the temperature using a thermometer. We're aiming for an internal temperature of 190F. You'll see the surface is foamy but not actively bubbling/boiling. Monitor the temperature without disturbing the mixture. When you reach 190F, slowly add your lemon juice and zest, and give it one last GENTLE stir. I can't stress this enough--I've wasted a lot of milk because of overzealous handling. Ricotta is a delicate cheese, be kind to it.
Remove your mixture from the heat and gently set aside to cool, about 60 mins. You will see that the milk has begun to curdle and separate from the whey at this point. Using a ladle, scoop the mixture slowly into your prepared strainer. Avoid dumping everything in at once--the weight of all that liquid can force the delicate curds through the strainer and reduce the end result, so I prefer to slowly ladle it. If you have zested your cheese with a peeler, remove the larger chunks at this point. I have made it using a zester as well, for a more citrus-y cheese and the flecks of zest are beautiful in it, so again it's up to you here.
Once all the mixture is in the strainer, let it drain for 90 - 120 minutes. You'll see as the liquid drains off, you're left with a soft cheese that's eerily similar to it's dairy-based cousin.
Using a plastic spatula, gently scoop the cheese into your prepared cheese mold and place in the fridge overnight to allow it to continue draining and set. Because the cheese will continue to drain overnight and produce liquid, I like to set my mold on an upturned shot glass in a bowl to keep it from sitting in liquid. When you're ready, turn your mold over onto a plate and store in the fridge. It keeps pretty well but it disappears very quickly around here :)
Baked Spaghetti Squash and Ricotta Tart
Roasted Strawberries with Ricotta on Toast
Orange Zest Almond Ricotta
Sunflower Seed Ricotta
Stuffed Shells with Kale and Ricotta
Step by Step of the draining process