Ricotta Cheese is the name of an Italian cheese, which is produced from whey. Whey is nothing, but a limpid, low-fat, nutritious liquid that is a by-product of cheese production process. It is the liquid that gets separated out from the curd when we make cheese. Though the making of cheese robs milk of most of its protein, some of it remains in whey, mainly in the form of albumin. This whey is then used to make Ricotta cheese.
A fresh cheese, Ricotta boasts of a grainy texture and looks creamy white in appearance. It has a taste that can be defined as slightly sweet. The cheese comprises of around 5 percent fat and has a texture that is quite similar to some of the variants of cottage cheese. However, Ricotta cheese is definitely considerably lighter than them. Being a fresh cheese, it is also highly perishable and should be stored with care.
Making Ricotta Cheese
Since whey contains very little protein, a very large quantity of it is used to make a small amount of Ricotta cheese. This makes the production of Ricotta a low yield process. For making the cheese, whey is heated, sometimes with additional acid like vinegar, to a near boiling temperature. This curdles the remaining protein from the whey and leads to the formation of Ricotta cheese. Whey has been used in this way since the ancient times, referred to by Cato the Elder.
Uses of Ricotta Cheese
Ricotta cheese is used in making the following:
- In Italian desserts, such as cheesecakes and cannoli
- In various types of Italian cookies
- In Naples' pastiera, one of Italy's many "Easter pies"
- In savory dishes, including pasta, pizza, manicotti, lasagna, and ravioli
- In traditional egg or tuna salad, as a substitute for mayonnaise
- As a sauce thickener
Variants of Ricotta Cheese
The main variants of Ricotta cheese are American Ricotta Cheese and Italian Ricotta Cheese. The Italian version is made from whey of sheep or water buffalo milk and is nutty, slightly sweet and has dry texture. The American variant, on the other hand, is made from whey of cow milk. It is blander, sweeter, moister, and therefore, more neutral in cooking. However, both of them have low fat and sodium content. Given below are the four main preparations of Ricotta Cheese.
Ricotta salata is the name given to the pressed, salted and dried variety of Ricotta cheese. It is basically a hard cheese that is milky-white in color and is used for grating or shaving. It is sold in the shape of wheels, which are decorated with a delicate basket-weave pattern.
Ricotta infornata, also known as ricotta al forno, is mainly popular in the regions of Sardinia and Sicily. For making it, a large lump of soft ricotta is placed in the oven. It remains there until a brown, lightly charred crust develops. At times, it is cooked till it becomes sandy brown all the way through.
Ricotta affumicatais quite similar to Ricotta infornata. In this case, a lump of soft ricotta is put in a smoker until it develops a grey crust. This results in the cheese acquiring a charred wood scent, usually of oak or chestnut wood. In Friuli area, beech wood is used for making the cheese, along with juniper and herbs.
Ricotta scanta is produced by letting the cheese go sour in a controlled manner. The souring process lasts for about a week, with the cheese being stirred every 2-3 days and salted occasionally. In this case, the liquid is allowed to flow away. The procedure lasts around 100 days, after which the Ricotta cheese acquires a distinct, pungent, piquant aroma, along with an aromatic and piquant taste, with bitter note.