Ricotta (Whole Milk or Cultured Whey) Recipe

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 Varieties

  • Whole Milk
  • Cultured Whey (with or without added milk) . This is usually called Ricottone
  • A drier version is made by extending the draining in the forms. One of the richest and most luxuriant versions comes from the Ragusano area of Sicily.
  • A very dry version made from extended draining and pressing under weight and followed by aging of several months or longer called Ricotta Salata .. This can then become a table or grating cheese

Keep in mind:

  • Ricotta tastes and smells like the milk it is made from, so use the best and freshest dairy you can find. You can control the consistency of your cheese by the length of time you drain it
  • Richness can be increased by incorporating more cream in the Whole milk or Whey from your cheese making ... to the point that it will be almost like Mascarpone

"LAB" stands for Lactic Acid Bacteria, another term used when describing Starter Cultures

Q. I'm interested in aging the ricotta salata in my cheese cave. I was wondering, given that the LAB were killed during the heating process, what cultures develop flavor and keep the cheese safe from other bacteria during the aging process. Normally I count on the activity of the lactic acid to outcompete other bacteria during aging, but because this cheese is pasteurized by the heating process, would any cultures still be alive?

A. The high salting of this cheese usually is enough to keep surface molds under control. High moisture tends to cause more attention to surface brushing if needed. The flavor of the cheese is the result of cheese solids breaking down and reassembling into different aroma/taste. This is encouraged by enzymes left behind as the LAB break down as they die. This is why most aged cheese tastes nothing like it’s curds.

Q. Can rennet be used to make ricotta?

A. Ricotta translates to "recooked. "Cotta" means the whey released. All you need is a sweet whey (drained early in the process), heat, plus a bit of citric acid. The addition of rennet would result in another cheese from ricotta, entirely.

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