What Is Ricotta Cheese, Really?

When I was little, I’ll confess that I thought ricotta and cottage cheese were the exact same thing. I suppose, phonetically, they sound similar and they look alike…heck, I looked it up and you can use them interchangeably in a lot of recipes. But, they’re completely different things, and I was a fool to think otherwise. There, I feel a lot better, and I’m glad we’re communicating in such an open and honest way. Now, forget about cottage cheese completely, because today we’re talking ricotta. 

What is ricotta?

Ricotta is a delicious Italian cheese made from cow, sheep, goat, or, yes, even water buffalo milk whey, left over from the production of other cheeses. It has been produced since as far back as the Bronze Age. It’s creamy, mild, and delicious in pasta or on toast. It’s high in calcium and protein, which makes it an okay choice when trying to eat healthy (in moderation of course—I’d advise against the “all-ricotta diet”).

How do you make ricotta?

Here’s how to make ricotta. The process to make traditional whey ricotta cheese starts similarly to other cheeses: You heat your preferred milk until the curds and whey separate. Now, while the curds become the basis for cheese varieties such as mozzarella, reheating the whey (with the optional addition of citric acid) produces the moist, fine grains that traditionally create, you guessed it, ricotta (the name literally means “twice cooked”). The problem with making ricotta, however, is you get stuck in vicious “Who’s On First?” style exchanges with others. You’ll be like “I’m making ricotta!” and they’ll say “No way!” and you’ll say “Actually, yes whey!” and so on and so forth. If you’re up for that, then get cooking!

What does ricotta taste like?

Fresh ricotta has a mild, slightly nutty flavor with a thick and creamy texture studded with very small curds. Its pleasantly neutral flavor helps it to work well in both sweet and savory dishes. You can be finishing a big dinner of ricotta filled pasta, while the server wheels out a dessert cart full of ricotta filled pastry. 

Is ricotta gluten free?

Ricotta is luckily gluten free, so it can be enjoyed by people all across the gluten-tolerance spectrum. Now, if we could only figure out a way to make it cost free, then we’d really be on to something…Note to self: Figure out a way to make all food free, and reap love of entire population of planet. I’ll get on that right after I do my laundry. 

What to make with ricotta cheese

If you’re looking for an extremely versatile cheese that can go with practically anything, let me stop you right there and yell the following word right in your face: RICOTTA! Folks, this stuff can be added to pasta, pancakes, cheesecake, pizza, fruit, dessert tarts…the list goes on and on. I mean, just look at that run of foods and ask yourself if anything else can boast such adaptiveness! By my estimation, the only other thing that can go with that entire list is “plates and silverware.”  

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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