April 04 2022 – That's Amore Cheese
Ricotta is a creamy, fresh cheese which comes from the Italian word for 're-cooked.' It is often referred to as 'whey cheese' and is one of the most versatile culinary ingredients with a multitude of ways to be eaten: by itself, with fresh fruit, baked into sweet cakes or incorporated into savoury dishes. So what is ricotta anywhey?
It is a cheese with an ancient history but its preparation has remained unchanged over time. The origin is uncertain but seems to have appeared around 2000BCE, thanks to Sumerian cattle breeding techniques. The knowledge of these new techniques reached Egypt, where the 'ricotta' starts to be sold to Greek sailors who for the first time have something fresh to eat while sailing back home to Greece. Thanks to the connections between Greece, the Middle East and Western Asia (then known as Mesopotamia), ricotta reached Sicily, its first appearance in Italy. In the Sicilian dialect, the word for ricotta is zammatàru which translates to 'dairy farmer.'
Traditional ricotta cheese is made using whey leftover from cheesemaking and it is a wonderful way to reuse whey that might normally be discarded. The first step is to heat the whey to 60°C while constantly stirring, then add a bit of milk and bring to 90°C. When the mixture is heated, this regulates the acidity which causes the whey proteins to destabilise and the ricotta floats to the surface, The ricotta is then scooped out into baskets.
As mentioned. ricotta is incredibly versatile due to its consistency and neutral flavour so it can generally be used for both sweet and savoury recipes. Ricotta is delicious when spread on toast or with fresh berries and honey.
Most of the Italian dishes with ricotta come from Sicily, such as cannoli and cassata Siciliana, two of the most delicious Italian desserts. Cassata Siciliana is a mix of ingredients such as lemon, almonds and sheep ricotta. It was invented in Sicily but has the influence of the Middle East, that imported those ingredients when they arrived on the Italian Peninsula. Other recipes that are beautiful Italian classics are pasta alla norma or torta salata with ricotta and spinach.
We have put together a few recipes that could inspire you:
Planning a trip to Italy?
Sicily is one of the most fascinating regions in Italy, maybe because it's an island, maybe due to the variety of landscapes or maybe just because of the delicious cheese that you can find on every corner in the streets. There is plenty of history and things to do but our shout out goes to Vizzini, a town that inspired us to organise the only Ricotta Festival held in Australia. The village of Vizzini, birthday of Giovanni Verga, attracts people from all over the world for its Sagra della Ricotta e del formaggio, which has been running for almost 50 years. If you are in Italy during that time, stopping by in Vizzini during the festival, you will not leave disappointed!