Technically ricotta (pronounced ri-Kot-ta) is not really a cheese but a cheese by-product. The word ricotta
literally means 'recooked', and it describes the cheese made when whey, the watery residue from the
making of another cheese, is cooked again. The whey is generally drained from such cheese as mozzarella,
provolone, or similar cheese. Ricotta romana is the type of ricotta that we are most familiar with in the US.
Originally, ricotta was made solely from the whey remaining after making pecorino, ewe's milk cheese. Although some of it is still made that way, nearly all ricotta is
made from whole or skimmed cow's milk. The cow's milk is heated and citric acid is added to encourage destabilization and separation. The temperature of the mixture
is increased and the proteins from the whey separate, rise, and coagulate. These proteins are skimmed off and put in a wicker basket to drain for 2 days after which
the ricotta is ready for market. The resulting product is milk white, very soft, granular, and mild tasting. Ricotta is naturally low in fat, with a fat content ranging from 4
to 10%. It is lower in sodium than cottage cheese. Ricotta is a good source of calcium. One-half cup of ricotta provides 42% of the recommended daily requirement of
calcium. The origins of ricotta reach back into Latin and Mediterranean history. It is believed to have been created in the Roman countryside as travelers cooked their
food in big kettles over open fires. The product was cooked twice to extract the cheese from the buttermilk. Most of the ricotta that we purchase comes in plastic
tumblers in the dairy section of the supermarket.
It is worth seeking out a good ricotta in a cheese shop or a food store with a specialized cheese department. There you will find ricotta that is sold loose and will be cut
from a piece that looks as though it had been unmolded from a basket. Usually it is not only fresher than the supermarket variety but is less watery. If you are using
ricotta in baking this is an important consideration. Ricotta is highly perishable. It should always be refrigerated, and once opened, used within one week. Ricotta is
also processed for longer life in three ways: salting, baking, and smoking.
Whole Milk Ricotta
The cheese is manufactured from whole milk, and the finished product shall
contain not more than 80.0% moisture and not less than 11.0% milkfat.
The cheese is manufactured from milk with reduced milkfat content, and the
finished product shall contain not more than80.0% moisture and less than
11.0%, but not less than, 6.0% milkfat.
This is a sheep's milk ricotta to which salt has been added as a preservative.
The liquid is pressed out and the solids are compacted into rounds, enabling it
to be cut with a knife. It's texture is crumbly but firm. Ricotta salata can also
be air cured or dried in an oven to render a sharp-tasting cheese reminiscent of
the flavor of romano. It is a milky-white hard cheese used for grating or
shaving. Ricotta salata is sold in wheels and decorated with a delicate basket-
Ricotta Informata is produced by placing a large lump of soft ricotta in the oven
until it develops a brown, lightly charred crust. Sometimes it is allowed to
become sandy brown all the way through. This variety is popular primarily in
Sardinia and Sicily, and is sometimes called ricotta al forno.
This variety is similar to ricotta informata. It is produced by placing a lump of
soft ricotta in a smoker until it develops a grey crust and acquires a charred
wood scent, usually of oak or chestnut.
Ricotta scanta is produced by letting fresh ricotta do sour for about a week.
It is then stirred every 2-3 days, salting occasionally and allowing the liquid to
drain. After about 100 days, the ricotta is the consistency of cream cheese. It
has a distinct, pungent aroma, much like blue cheese. Ricotta scanta tastes
as it smells, extremely aromatic and piquant. It has a definite bitter note that
is said to taste "hot" to the tongue.