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All countries where livestock is raised produce ricotta, the oldest and simplest of cheeses. In actual fact ricotta is not a cheese, but a dairy product formed when the whey is separated from the curds. The whey is coagulated by heating (reheating, hence the name “ri-cotta”) the milk to 80°/90°. Sometimes an acidifying substance is added at this point. Then the whey is shaken constantly until a white bloom appears on its surface, and the solidified mass rises to the top and is left to rest.
Made from sheep’s milk, goat’s milk (though rarely), buffalo milk or cow’s milk (or a mixture of different types of milk), ricotta is a very useful ingredient in the kitchen, for its versatility allows it to be used in everything from appetisers to desserts.
It can be used to make sweets, first courses, as an ingredient in fillings for pies and in bread, added to milkshakes or served with a little heather or rosemary honey as a simple dessert: here you find a collection of ricotta recipes you must try. Fresh ricotta is vulnerable to attack by microorganisms, some of which can be pathogenic, and so it must be eaten very fresh, before it sours. The more water in the ricotta, the more perishable it will be.
Smoked, salted or dried ricotta is produced by adding salt to preserve and dry out the cheese; the result is a solid ricotta which may be grated. Ricotta is an excellent energy source, as it contains milk protein from whey, which is better quality than the protein in cheese or meat. It is one of the least fattening dairy products, at 130-240 kcal/100 g, though milk or cream is sometimes added to industrially produced ricotta.
Almost all regions of Italy produce different varieties of ricotta. Liguria produces a higher calorie version known locally as prescinseua; it is made from cow’s milk in the lower Po Valley region and sheep’s milk in Tuscany; in Lazio ricotta is an ingredient in many traditional dishes and is also made in a salted, seasoned version. The region of Campania produces ricotta di fuscella, perfect for making the dessert known as pastiera napoletana; ricotta is made in all the parts of southern Italy away from the coast. In Calabria it is the main ingredient in a historic dish, maccheroni alla pastora, accompanied by sausages. In Sicily ricotta is made fresh to go into the region’s famous cannoli and salted or oven-baked for serving with aubergines in Pasta alla Norma.