How Fresh Ricotta Cheese Is Made: A Visit to Salvatore Ricotta in Brooklyn

The Cheesemonger

This isn't the first time I've written about Salvatore Ricotta. I love their cheese. And I'm not the only one.

Lucky me, I paid the facility a visit the other week, and witnessed (and even helped in) the making of a batch of ricotta. Herein, all the details, plus information on what makes their cheese so crave- and praise-worthy.

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Salvatore's office-slash-cheesemaking room is located near the Brooklyn Navy yards. They share space with two other Brooklyn-based small-production food companies: Early Bird Granola and The White Moustache yogurt company. The place feels very Brooklyn: homespun and artisanal in the true sense. Things are literally made by hand here, by a handful of individuals. And they're making waves.

Salvatore's emblem is a crown, beneath which states their slogan, "Royally Good." It's totally true.

On to the ricotta.

The Milk

(First things first, right?) Salvatore starts with Hudson Valley Fresh milk, a non-profit dairy cooperative that sources rBST-free milk from farms all within 20 miles of one another. Furthermore, the milk isn't ultra-pasteurized, which makes for a richer-tasting, more delicious product.

The Process

Thirty-five gallons of milk in the vat get seasoned with a precise measurement of kosher salt. A gentle heating begins, and when the milk reaches 188 degrees, in goes the fresh lemon juice. A few gentle stirs, and then the mixture sits, acidifying, for 20 to 30 minutes, until soft curds form. The curds are then scooped by hand into cheesecloth-lined perforated hotel pans, and then sit at room temperature to drain for 30 minutes before being transferred to a walk-in refrigerator, where the cheese sits for six hours until ready to be packed into plastic containers. Because of this long draining period, the cheese becomes dense and thick, and utterly slatherable.

They offer a cherry wood-smoked version, too. It's that incarnation that I've written about before; after tasting it I discovered that I didn't actually hate smoked cheese. Always an exception to the rule, if the product is good enough. Their smoky ricotta is so delicious you can eat it solo. Hell, their plain one is good enough to do that, too. Cooking with Salvatore makes for some seriously interesting dishes, spooned atop a pasta or homemade pizza.

Sounds easy, right? But it's an art, and one that owner Betsy Divine perfected and tweaked over the course of two full years. With only three ingredients (milk, salt, and lemon juice), the formula's got to be right. And that it is. The current recipe yields the smoothest ricotta, with a nearly cream cheese-like creaminess. It's slightly lemony to the taste, and has a density that's more akin to a fresh goat cheese or super thick mascarpone than a light and fluffy ricotta. It's this richness that makes Salvatore's product so unique from other ricottas out there.

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It's a two-hour process, all told, not including the full time for draining and packaging. And the yield for each batch? 80 pounds of cheese. If you think that sounds like a lot, think of it this way: 35 gallons of milk (the quantity of milk per batch) weighs 280 pounds. So the yield is pretty low, considering what they start with and how much they loose in the form of whey. Ricotta is precious stuff, indeed. It's a good thing it's so rich, because a little goes a long way.

Seek it out → Salvatore ricotta is available at New York Whole Foods, Eataly, and other neighborhood markets in the NY/BK vicinity for about $9 per 1/2 lb. Check out their website to find ricotta near you.

(Image credits: Nora Singley)

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