Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Italy’s most versatile cheese

Italy’s most versatile cheese
When you think about the cheeses of Italy, ricotta may not be the first that springs to mind. But the soft, mild white cheese is one of the most versatile around, starring in many fine Italian dishes – both sweet and savory.

Ricotta is made from whey – a milk by-product of cheese-making (the name ‘ricotta’ literally means re-cooked). It’s thought the cheese originated in rural Italy, where travelers would cook their meals in large pots over open fires. The discovery of ricotta would have been a happy accident while preparing a dairy dish.

Cow, goat, sheep or even water-buffalo milk can all be used to make ricotta, which adding to the many styles it can be made in and ways it can be preserved, make the varieties as diverse as its uses.

Ricotta salata for example is pressed, dried and hardened, giving it a longer shelf life and making it great for shaving over pasta. Ricotta infornata is baked soft, but hardens and turns golden brown, Ricotta affumicata is smoked and often has herbs added, while Ricotta forte is allowed to ferment for a year, making it a pungent, gooey spreadable cheese…not to mention an acquired taste.

From stuffed pasta to pizza topping, served with biscuits and crackers or used as the rich filling of a cheesecake, you could probably have a ricotta-inspired dish every day of the week and never tire of the flavors. Your taste-buds wouldn’t object, but even though it’s a comparatively light cheese, your waistline probably would!