I made my own ricotta cheese tonight, and let me tell you, it was so simple that I cannot believe that I haven't been making it all along. If you have a microwave-safe bowl that can fit about a quart of liquid, either some cheesecloth (which you can find in larger grocery stores in whatever isle they're hiding "gadgets" and the like) or a fine sieve, you can make it too.
How to go about it:
1 large microwave safe bowl. I use a Pyrex 3 quart glass bowl.
several layers of cheesecloth set into a colander OR a fine-mesh sieve
1 quart of whole milk
1 fresh lemon (bottled lemon juice is not going to work in this), juiced.
1/4 tsp salt (or 3/4 tsp salt, for ricotta salata, which follows)
Pour milk into bowl.
Put the bowl into a microwave. I tested my time on a 1000-watt microwave, so your time may be more or less depending on the power of yours. Set time for 3 and a half minutes. When time is up, stir milk. Microwave for another minute. Stir. Microwave for 45 seconds. Test the temperature. The milk should NOT be boiling or simmering. It should just be hot with steam rising off of the surface. Remove bowl from microwave carefully.
Stir salt into the milk.
Stir 2 Tbsp lemon juice into the milk, stir gently for a moment, then let the mixture sit undisturbed for 30 minutes.
The curds should separate from the whey... this generally looks like little white chunks (curds) in a clearish yellow liquid (that's whey). Strain the mixture into the sieve or cheesecloth until all of the liquid is drained out. If you're using cheesecloth, you can gather up the ends and give the cheese a gentle squeeze to drain it.**
Put your cheese into an airtight container and use it within the week. Yield: about 1 cup of cheese.
**If you want to make ricotta salata... which is salted ricotta that has a firm texture, the cheesecloth method will be the best method for this. Follow all of the above steps, but gather the ends of the cheesecloth and gather them over the cheese. Place the colander into a larger bowl. Top the cheeseclothed cheese with a plate, then weigh it down with some cans. Place in the refrigerator for 2 days. Serve cheese with crusty bread and sliced fresh fruit (figs are amazing with this).