Ricotta: It’s Whey Better than it Seems

Growing up, I thought ricotta was kind of gross. It looked like cottage cheese, which reminded me of snot, and it tasted funny.

Oh, how wrong children are about food.

Or at least, how crazy it is that our tastes and preferences change and evolve so much as we age.

Child-Courtney, in her pre-PhCheese primordial state—who, I might add, also hated tomatoes and tomato sauce, and swore up and down that her mother was trying to poison her whenever something landed on the table that looked like spaghetti, lasagna, or worse, manicotti—did really like cannoli and other sweets that secretly stowed away ricotta, and could devour an entire platter of cheese ravioli and other things that were creamy and void of tomato sauce, but also secretly harboring ricotta.

Little idiot that I was then (who also thought it was Bisketti, not Spaghetti), I know much better now. Ricotta is versatile, delicious, and just as good plain as it is tucked away inside of something tasty and hot.

I just made my very own batch of ricotta earlier this week. And that was great. But honestly, it was not as great as a couple of ricottas we carry in the shop, with which we did a side-by-side comparison last week.

The classic standby is Calabro’s hand-dipped ricotta, which comes in a cute metal tin. We sell the full tins as is, or we break them down and sell the ricotta in smaller per-pound quantities. In general, people want this stuff for cooking and baking.

It’s dense, rich, creamy, and smooth. As ricottas go, it’s really heavy stuff. Pack it into some manicotti, plop it in your lasagna, or sugar it up and bake it into a ricotta torta or cheesecake.

Then there’s Bellwether Farms’ hand-dipped basket ricotta. Not only is it a precious little thing in its pretty packaging and cute little basket, but this ricotta is buttery, voluptuous, and as much a thing of pure sex as any fresh cheese could be.

This is the ricotta I want to eat on great bread with fruit jam or compote or honey. This is the ricotta I will eat straight out of the basket with a spoon. Everyone who tasted it in the shop loved Calabro’s ricotta, but was blown away by Bellwether’s.

Of course, there are tons of artisanal ricottas on the market, and these are only two of them. They are also two of the best.

At the 2016 American Cheese Society competition, Calabro ricotta took third place in the cow’s milk ricotta category, and Bellwether Farms basket ricotta took second place. Maple Brook Farm of Vermont took first place; I haven’t gotten my hands on that ricotta, but I’ll bet you it is freaking great.

Ricotta is fairly underrated as cheeses go. Some people—like Steven Jenkins in his Cheese Primer—swear that it is not a cheese, but rather is just a dairy product, a “cheese,” or a byproduct of the cheesemaking process.

This is because ricotta is made from the whey leftover in the cheesemaking process, rather than the curds that make things like mozzarella. But if ricotta isn’t cheese, then neither are Manouri or Mizithra or Ricotta salata, or Mysost, Gjetost or Urdă.

And I’m pretty sure that way more people would consider those to be cheeses than not-cheeses. So there.

On top of it being super easy to make at home, either as a byproduct of making another fresh cheese or as an end-result of its own production, ricotta has tons of applications in the kitchen and belongs in your everyday repertoire.

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