The heart of many Italian dishes, ricotta is one of the most well-known cheeses in Italian cuisine. It is also one of the most versatile, seamlessly pairing with fresh springtime vegetables, hearty and meaty lasagna, or rich dessert pastries. Most people can easily recognize ricotta by the appearance, taste, and texture. However, few really know this delicious Italian staple.
Did You Know…
That ricotta is not technically a cheese? It’s actually made from whey, a watery liquid left over after cheese-making. In Italian, is is known as a latticino, or by-product. Mozzarella is another latticino! Like today’s chefs, Italian cheesemakers hated to throw anything away, so they developed a delicious new purpose for what was once a waste product. In fact, the word ricotta means “re-cooked.”
That ricotta can be made from different milks? Many cheeses are made from the milk of a specific animal, such as cow or goat. Ricotta can come from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, and even buffalo!
That ricotta comes from many regions? Like wine, Italian cheeses come from specific parts of the country. The location affects the flavor and texture of a cheese. Ricotta, however, can be made from whey produced in any region.
That ricotta has been a well-known cheese for centuries? There are references to ricotta in ancient Roman records, so it was a well known cheese at least 3,000 years ago. The production process has changed little since then: The whey is allowed to ferment for a day or two, then cooked, and the resulting solid curds are strained out from the liquid.
Fresh or Prepared?
While any food is its best when freshly made, it’s pretty hard to get your hands on authentic fresh ricotta. Even within Italy, many cooks rely on a prepared products. Because ricotta isn’t dependent on the soil and climate to develop its flavor, it can be made in many regions within Italy as well as other parts of the world. Many of these prepared varieties are arguably as delicious as fresh versions.
The milk source affects ricotta in some subtle ways. Cows milk makes a milder cheese that doesn’t compete with strong flavors but can also stand on its own in a more delicate setting. This type of ricotta is most often used in stuffed pastas (such as tortelloni and ravioli) and desserts. Sheep’s milk makes for a richer cheese with a more assertive flavor. Ideal for sauces or when paired with fresh vegetables, is also appears in two iconic Sicilian desserts: cassata and cannoli.
Unlike most cheeses, there are several distinct varieties of ricotta.
- The most well known is probably Ricotta Romana, a style produced in Lazio that is smooth and rich.
- Ricotta salata is a hard salted cheese often grated over pasta or salads.
- Ricotta al forno (also ricotta infornata) is baked, and it can be added to other dishes or eaten as a stand-alone food.
- A smoked variety is ricotta affumicata. It carries a hint of oak or chestnut flavor.
Ricotta is one of many Italian ingredients that can turn an everyday recipe into something fit for a king. For the finest in Italian ingredients, the Boston area relies on the experts at Casa Foods. Family owned and operated, we provide top quality ingredients to complete any Italian recipe. Call us at 978 -777-1619 and let us help you!