1 gallon whole milk (cow, goat, and sheep milk all work)
½ gallon buttermilk
Kosher Salt, Freshly Ground Black Pepper, Herbs of choice
Layer a fine-meshed sieve with 4 layers of cheesecloth, “nesting” the cheesecloth firmly into the strainer. Heat milk and buttermilk in a heavy-bottom, non-reactive, 8-quart pot over medium-high heat.
As the mixture heats, use a large metal spoon to occasionally skim around the edges of the pot — gentle, slow, shallow skims. Skim lightly toward the center. Rest and watch. Skim around the edges. Rest and watch. Skim lightly toward the center. Skim around the edges. Repeat, repeat, repeat (om!) while mixture comes up to temperature — but not to a boil.
The liquid surface will begin to look like a glacier with cloudy lakes. Skim lightly toward the center; skim around the edge. Skim lightly toward the center; skim around the edges.
The liquid surface next resembles a watery yogurt, with “movement” in the liquid. Once the “cloudy lakes” turn opaque, the curds are near!
Lightly push the thickening surface layer inward, nudging it gently toward the center, folding it peacefully upon itself. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Don’t rush it; Zen it.
Once the mixture starts curdling (but not boiling), reduce heat to medium.
Juice the lemons through a strainer into the pot. Using the metal spoon, gently “surface-spread” the lemon juice over the top of the thickening liquid.
“This is when it starts getting exciting.” The mixture becomes “sudsy” — like when you boil potatoes too hard. Skim … push … nudge …fold. Skim … push … nudge …fold. Now the surface begins to look like watery, small-curd cottage cheese. As the curds form (patience, grasshopper!), ladle them out of the pot (with as little liquid as possible). Place the curds gently into the nest of cheesecloth.
Rock the curds in the chinois and, using a wooden spoon, fold the curds into and onto themselves, within the cheesecloth. As you do this, the curds will drain and become creamier and creamier. 10 minutes. “It’s a sight-and-feel thing.” Let the curds rest in the cheesecloth for 20 minutes. Use immediately or seal tightly and refrigerate. Keeps up to a week in the fridge.
NOTES: The longer you cook the curds, the harder, drier, and smaller the curds will be. If you want a very firm, dry ricotta, tie off the cheesecloth into a “bag” and hang it in a refrigerator overnight. Caution: The ricotta will “pick up” whatever odors are in your fridge.