Ricotta, The Non-Cheese All Italians Love

My friend Amy jokes that if I were ever to disclose my full relationship with cheeses, my citizenship might be revoked. I have to admit she does have a point- in a country with so many delicious cheeses, like Caciocavallo, the hundred types of pecorino, Parmigiano and Formaggio di Fossa and mozzarella, my favorite cheese is not even a real cheese. What can I say- ricotta is a delight for me.

Real cheese is made from milk- cow, goat or sheep, usually the milk is the main ingredient. Not for ricotta- literally “cooked twice”- which is made with whey, the by-product of cheese making. Legend has it that it was first made by mistake, when a shepherd left a pot of whey on the fire after it had separeted the milk to make cheese. When he came back, he realized that the whey had “recooked” and formed into lumps. When scooped up and drained, these lumps are what we call ricotta even in modern times.

Homemade Ricotta, courtesy of Simona

Ricotta is the only cheese I dare make at home (I tried making mozzarella, kudos to you Simona, but it’s seriously too much hard work for my mediocre results!), since it’s hard to find the same texture of Italian ricotta in the store-bought products available here. When I am desperate I head to the Cheeseboard or the Cowgirl Creamery to get the real flavor, or I follow Rosetta’s instructions. Rosetta Costantino leads a wildly popular ricotta class in Emeryville, where she not only teaches how to make ricotta, but also how to craft an entire meal with it. From filling ravioli to creating delicious cannoli, or simply spreading it on bread as an appetizer, the flavor of ricotta is one of my favorite- so delicate and at the same time so enticing! Ricotta is one of those rare “cross-Italian” foods- popular and used in the north, where ricotta is mostly made from cow’s milk, as it is widely spread in the south, where it is mostly made from sheep milk. A pan-Italian ingredient- hard to believe there are any!

Delicious usage of ricotta

5 Responses to “Ricotta, The Non-Cheese All Italians Love”

  1. Viva la ricotta! What can I say? I just love it.

  2. I put a spoonful of full-fat ricotta in so many of the Italian dishes I make. It’s my secret ingredient!

  3. I think ricotta originated in Great Britain (or Scotland). Listen to this nursery rhyme:

    Little Miss Muffet
    Sat on a tuffet,
    Eating her curds and whey;

    Can it be translated “eating her ricotta cheese?”

    Hehe –

    Gabi @ mamaliga

  4. Lovely looking ricotta! We’ve been making it recently as a byproduct of making other cheeses. It has been good, but we haven’t gotten it quite “right”, yet.

    Do you press yours? I recognize the ricotta basket-mold shape in the first picture, but the second picture looks like a press mold.

  5. Hi Mike,
    so, the first ricotta is a picture from a caseificio in Italy (if you click on the picture you can follow the link), it is a in the basket mold. The second one is the one Simona at Briciole made- she’s the pro, and I think she presses it. I believe in Rosetta’s class you use the basket mold, bt I ma not a pro ricotta maker. When I did it, I just let it drain in the cheese cloth and then placed in a tupperware. I know, not a real cheese maker!

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