Everything you ever wanted to know about this simple cheese
Ricotta is known by most of us as that fluffy white cheese in our Lasagna and baking goodies .. but there is more to it than that.
I never was thrilled with the prospect of making Ricotta until I had a chance to take a workshop with Giuseppe Licitra, President of the Consorzio Ricerca Filira Lattiero-Casearia (CoRFiLaC) in Ragusa, Sicily ... during this workshop we watched as they broke the curd for Ragusano cheese with a big stick (and none to kindly at that) ... As it turns out their intent is to drive out as much as 30% of the butterfat into the whey to be made into the richest tasting Ricotta I have ever tasted. The background behind this is that the final cheese (Ragusano) would not produce income for many months or years. The Ricotta that could be produced could be immediately sold thus producing an income for the farms within a few days.
Ricotta has been a traditional cheese of Italy for many centuries. It was originally a means to strip proteins from the whey following the primary cheese making process... Proteins that would have otherwise been lost in the whey.
This was especially true in some of the longer aged 'Pasta Filata' styles (stretched cheese) such as Caciocavallo or Provolone and even in Parma style cheese where
Ricotta is a heat and acid precipitated cheese that can be made from whole or skim milk. When made from a mixture of milk and whey it is called Ricotone.
Raw milk can be used for the production of ricotta cheese since the heat treatment during curd formation more than meets the heat requirements for pasteurization.
In the first step of the process either a live culture or an acid is added to the milk to lower the pH to 5.9-6.0. The mixture is then heated to 176-185F, for 15-30 minutes.
This heat treatment, combined with the effect of the acid causes the precipitation of the curd. Exposure to such a high heat results in denaturation of some of the whey proteins that would normally be lost with the whey. The resulting curd is composed of both casein and whey proteins, unlike a conventional curd which is almost all casein. The ricotta curd also differ from a conventional rennet/acid curd in that the ricotta curd is loosely bound and entraps air. This results in a curd that will float on the top of the cheese vat. Proper control of the pH and the level of agitation are necessary to ensure that the curd floats and does not sink. The collected curds are allowed to drain for 4-6 hours in a cool room and then ready for consumption.
Ricotone and Ricotta cheese are very high in moisture and contain most of the lactose from the milk. Therefore, the keeping quality is not very good. It may last 10 days at best.
Ricotta today can be made in a variable styles: