Ricotta is a type of cheese, developed in Italy but manufactured and sold all over the world. Ricotta is a very flexible and delicious dairy product, starring in lasagne, , and many other delicious dishes which require the use of a soft, mild cheese product. The name, ricotta, actually means to cook again in Italian, a reference to the way in which ricotta is manufactured. Ricotta is also highly nutritious eaten plain, although somewhat bland in flavour.
Ricotta is made by recycling the whey drained from cheese while it is being made. Most cheese making involves curdling milk, draining the whey, and scooping the curds into forms. The whey is usually discarded, although sometimes it is retained for animal fodder or starting other cheeses. When making ricotta, this whey is heated again, to bring the proteins in the whey to the surface. As the whey is heated, or another type of acid is added to promote separation and the temperature is further raised until the lactalbumin, or proteins, rise to the surface. These proteins are drained in very fine for two days and then the dairy product is brought to market.Ricotta is usually a fresh cheese, although some versions such as ricotta salata are moulded and aged, and form a unique part of Italian cuisine although they are rarely seen in the United States. Ricotta should be eaten quickly, and kept under refrigeration until then. Ricotta can also be frozen for future use, and will last frozen for approximately six months. Many recipes call for the cheese, which lends an excellent texture and flavour to a wide variety of dishes.
In general, ricotta is made from cows milk whey, although sheep and goat are used as well. If sheep or goat whey is used, the ricotta is clearly labelled to indicate this. In many parts of the world where demand for ricotta is high, it can be made directly from milk although it will tend to be more dry and less creamy. When making ricotta from milk, the milk must be heated before acid is added and the proteins will rise to the surface, just as they do when making traditional ricotta. The mixture can be strained through cheesecloth and allowed to sit for several days, resulting in ricotta.
Ricotta has become very popular, and is usually a relatively low fat product, making it ideal for dieters. Some dairies also sell it in a fat free form, although the difference in fat content may not be that significant and the flavour of normal ricotta may be preferable.