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
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
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
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
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
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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