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Ricotta (cheese)

Ricotta is an Italian sheep milk or cow milk whey cheese. Ricotta (literally meaning "recooked") uses the whey, a limpid, low-fat, nutritious liquid that is a by-product of cheese production.

Ricotta is produced from whey, the liquid separated out from the curds when cheese is made. Most of the milk protein (especially casein) is removed when cheese is made, but some protein remains in the whey, mostly albumin. This remaining protein can be harvested if the whey is first allowed to become more acidic by additional fermentation (by letting it sit for 12�24 hours at room temperature).

Then the acidified whey is heated to near boiling. The combination of low pH and high temperature denatures the protein and causes it to precipitate out, forming a fine curd. Once cooled, the curd is separated by passing through a fine cloth.

After realizing that whey cannot be safely dumped in large concentrations as it creates an environmental nuisance, Pecorino Romano makers discovered that when the protein-rich substance is heated, whey protein particles fuse and create a curd. This curd, after drainage, is ricotta. Because ricotta is made from whey, rather than milk, it is technically considered a whey cheese.

Ricotta is a fresh cheese (as opposed to ripened or aged), grainy and creamy white in appearance, slightly sweet in taste, and contains around 13% fat. In this form, it is somewhat similar in texture to some cottage cheese variants, though considerably lighter. Like many fresh cheeses, it is highly perishable.

Manufacturing process
Whey from acid-set cheeses cannot produce ricotta, because all of the protein has curdled out in the original cheese. Whey contains little protein, since most of it was removed during the production of the original rennet-set cheese, from which the whey resulted. This means ricotta production is a low yield process, considering the amount of whey required to produce it.

The whey is heated, sometimes with additional acid like vinegar, to curdle out the remaining protein in the whey. The whey is heated to a near boiling temperature, much hotter than during the production of the original cheese, of which the whey is a remnant. This use for the whey has ancient origins and is referred to by Cato the Elder.

Common culinary uses
Like mascarpone in northern-Italian cuisine, ricotta is a favorite component of many Italian desserts, such as cheesecakes and cannoli. There are also kinds of cookies that include ricotta as an ingredient.

In Italian households and dining establishments, ricotta is often beaten smooth and mixed with condiments, such as sugar, cinnamon, orange flower water and occasionally chocolate shavings, and served as a dessert. This basic combination (often with additions such as citrus and pistachios) also features prominently as the filling of the crunchy tubular shell of the Sicilian cannoli, and layered with slices of cake in Palermo's cassata.

Combined with eggs and cooked grains, then baked firm, ricotta is also a main ingredient in Naples' pastiera, one of Italy's many "Easter pies". Regional variations may be sweet or savory.

Ricotta is also commonly used in savory dishes, including pasta, calzoni, pizza, manicotti, lasagne, and ravioli.

It also makes a suitable substitute for mayonnaise in traditional egg or tuna salad and as a sauce thickener.

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