Ricotta: an incredibly versatile ingredient
What is “Ricotta”?
With its soft and creamy texture and delicate taste, fresh Ricotta is one of our favourite ingredients, used in some of Italy’s most famous recipes.
Despite what most of us think, Ricotta is not considered a cheese, but a “latticino” (a dairy by-product). Ricotta, in fact, is not made from the curd (like most of the cheeses we know), but it is a derived product from the cheese making process obtained from whey – which is the watery liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained.
How Ricotta is made
The term “Ricotta” in Italian literally means “recooked” or “cooked twice” and comes from the production method used by cheesemakers. In fact, to make Ricotta, the milk is first heated in order to separate the curd from the whey. While the curd becomes the basis for traditional cheeses, to make Ricotta the whey is reheated at 80-90 C degrees. As a result, whey protein coagulate and form moist, fine grains that come to the surface of the liquid. Once the dense mixture is formed, it is placed in a perforated container where it is left to drain.
Different Types of Ricotta
Fresh Ricotta can be made using the milk from cow, ewe, goat or buffalo. The most common type of ricotta is made from cow’s milk and is characterized by a mild flavour and incredibly creamy and soft texture. Ewe’s milk ricotta is also widely used and, compared to the one obtained from cow’s milk, has a sharper and stronger taste, typical of sheep milk.
In Italy we have different types of Ricotta, which differ not only for the type of milk used. Every Italian region has its own culinary tradition and heritage and this reflects also on the production of ricotta and cheese in general.
Ricotta Romana, for example, is made using the whey (from ewe’s milk) left from the production of Pecorino Romano and since 2005 it protected by the DOP designation. It is soft and creamy, perfect enjoyed as it is or to create delicious stuffed pasta recipes. Ricotta Salata Siciliana (Sicilian Savoury Ricotta), made form ewe’s milk whey, differently form fresh ricotta, is covered by salt and left to age for 30 days circa. During this period of time, ricotta drains and gets harder, so that it can also be used grated on pasta. Ricotta Salata is in fact one of the main ingredients of the famous pasta alla norma.
A little bit of history
The production of Ricotta has incredibly ancient origins. According to some scholars, the practice of reusing left over from cheese production was already common during the Bronze Age. The Ancient Romans made ricotta, but because of its short shelf life, it was considered a low profitable product because it could not be sold to the urban markets and for this reason was mainly consumed by the pheasants who used to make it. Over the centuries, the production and consumption of Ricotta increased in Italy and in the Mediterranean populations in general and today it is consider one of the most appreciated and widely used ingredients worldwide.
Ricotta is an incredibly versatile ingredient. In Italy’s culinary tradition, it is widely used in many different recipes. Thanks to its delicate taste, Ricotta is used both in savoury dishes and desserts, making it an essential alley in the kitchen. Ricotta is, in fact, the main ingredients for delicacies like Cannelloni and Ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, traditional Cannoli Siciliani, Pastiera Napoletana and Cassata Siciliana, just to name a few. Along with all these famous recipes – sometimes a little bit complicated to make at home – in Italy Ricotta is often enjoyed as it is, as a healthy treat. Paired with honey, chocolate shavings or dried fruit, Ricotta make the ideal dessert, fresh and tasty, with a low calories content.
Discover some of our recipes made using ricotta: