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Ricotta (Italian pronunciation: [riˈkɔtta]) is an Italian dairy product made from sheep (or cow, goat, buffalo) milk whey left over from the production of cheese. Although typically referred to as ricotta cheese, ricotta is not properly a cheese because it is not produced by coagulation of casein. Rather it is made by coagulating other milk protein, notably albumin and globulin, left over in the whey that separates from the milk during the production of cheese. In fact, ricotta is safely eaten by individuals with casein intolerance.

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

Ricotta curds are creamy white in appearance, slightly sweet in taste, and contain around 13% fat. In this form, it is somewhat similar in texture to some cottage cheese variants, though considerably lighter. It is highly perishable. Ricotta comes in other forms as well, see variants below.

Manufacturing processEdit

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 or lemon juice, to catalyze the coagulation through heat of albumin and globulin 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.[1]

Common culinary usesEdit

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.

Ricotta can be 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" ([1]).

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

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

It is often used as a substitute for paneer in the Indian dessert known as Ras Malai. However, paneer is mostly casein protein, similar to Cottage Cheese, while Ricotta is made of all whey protein. Studies have "demonstrated that supplementation with whey protein improves blood pressure and vascular function in overweight and obese individuals" [2]. This suggests that Ras Malai made from Ricotta may be a healthier alternative in some cases.

VariantsEdit

While Italian ricotta is typically made from the whey of sheep, cow, goat, or water buffalo milk, the American product is almost always made of cow's milk whey. While both types are low in fat and sodium, the Italian version is naturally sweet, while the American is blander, slightly salty, and moister.

In addition to its fresh, soft form, ricotta is also sold in three preparations which ensure a longer shelf life: salted, baked and smoked. The pressed, salted, dried and aged variety of the cheese is known as ricotta salata, milky-white and firm, used for grating or shaving. Ricotta salata is sold in wheels, decorated by a delicate basket-weave pattern.

Ricotta infornata is produced by placing a large lump of soft ricotta in the oven until it develops a brown, lightly charred crust, sometimes even until it becomes sandy brown all the way through. Ricotta infornata is popular primarily in Sardinia and Sicily, and is sometimes called ricotta al forno.

Ricotta affumicata is similar to ricotta infornata. It is produced by placing a lump of soft ricotta in a smoker until it develops a grey crust and acquires a charred wood scent, usually of oak or chestnut wood, although in Friuli beech wood is used, with the addition of juniper and herbs.[2]

Ricotta scanta is produced by the process of letting the ricotta go sour in a controlled manner, for about a week, then stirring it every 2–3 days, salting occasionally and allowing the liquid to flow away. After about 100 days, the ricotta has the consistency of cream cheese, with a distinct, pungent, piquant aroma, much like blue cheese but much richer. Ricotta scanta, also called ricotta forte, tastes as it smells, extremely aromatic and piquant, with a definite bitter note. Tasted with the tip of the tongue, it has a "hot" sensation.

In Mexico, ricotta is known as requesón. It can be salted or sweetened for cooking purposes, and is a popular filling for tlacoyos and tacos dorados. In the central west area (Jalisco, Michoacan and Colima), it is spread over tostadas or bolillos, or served as a side to beans.

Romanian urdă is made by reprocessing the whey drained from any type of cheese. Urdă is thus similar to fresh ricotta as its fabrication implies the same technological process.[3][4] However, Romanian urdă is neither smoked, nor baked in the oven like some variants of the Italian ricotta. Besides, urdă is used mainly in desserts, not in other types of dishes. Urdă is produced by Romanian shepherds since immemorial times and is consequently regarded by Romanians as a Romanian traditional product.[5]

Albanian gjiza is made by boiling whey for about 15 minutes. The derivate is drained 3-4 times with a napkin or piece of cloth and salted to taste. Gjiza can be served immediately or refrigerated a couple of days.

Indian khoa is often confused with ricotta, but the two are very different. It is lower in moisture and made from whole milk instead of whey.

ReferencesEdit

  1. "Formaggi tipici italiani: Ricotta Romana DOP" (in Italian). Agraria.org - Istruzione Agraria online. http://www.agraria.org/prodottitipici/ricottaromana.htm. 
  2. MondoFriuli (click on Formaggi)
  3. DEX dictionary definition of urdă
  4. Jurnalul Oficial al Uniunii Europene - in the Romanian version of the Official Journal of the EU ricotta is translated by urdă (page 4, sub-chapter 5.3.).
  5. Official site of the Directia pentru Agricultura si Dezvoltare Rurala Sibiu - Urdă is presented as a traditional dairy product.

External linksEdit

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