Most people who adore cheese can recount a moment from their past when everything became just a bit clearer. It's what we call The Cheese Epiphany, and it's when you have your first deeply emotional response to cheese.
Our resident cheesemonger recently found a superlative version of the cheese responsible for hers, which we're documenting here. We've talked a lot about ricotta here: how to make it, with what to serve it, and recipes that highlight it.
But when you find an example that blows all others away, it's only appropriate to re-open the conversation.
Since 1892, Alleva Dairy, the oldest cheese market in Little Italy, has been making some of the most outstanding fresh ricotta around, made at their dairy in Schenectady, New York. Alleva's is light, smooth, and creamy as can be. But there's a complexity that isn't normally present in other ricottas. It's complex and nuanced, with a longer, lingering finish you don't normally see in fresh cheeses.
Robert Alleva, the latticcini’s current owner, still continues to use a century-old recipe borrowed from the original owner, his great grandmother Pina, who immigrated from Italy.
Italian for “re-cooked,” the name refers to its make process, whereby leftover whey from the making of another cheese is reheated to curdle out the whey's remaining proteins and fats into soft curd. The result is fluffy, uber-fresh cheese, which at its best is a thumbprint of the clean, sweet milk from which it came. Unfortunately, the quality spectrum of ricotta is vast, and supermarket versions will leave you reaching for anything to rid your mouth of the granular texture and plastic-y taste.
While ricotta is more often used for cooking, when it's as good as Alleva's, it's best honored plain. A sprinkle of coarse salt (maybe) and a great baguette is truly the only accompaniments necessary.
If prodded to go further, a good option is a large, wide bowl of ricotta surrounded with chopped and chilled roasted beets, toasted almonds, a hefty drizzle of honey, and a few grinds of fresh pepper.
Alleva Dairy’s Ricotta can be found at Alleva Dairy (on the corner of Mulberry and Grand Streets in Manhattan) for $3.79/lb and at Saxelby Cheesemongers for $3.99/lb.
Related: Recipe: D.I.Y. Ricotta
Recipe: Easy Ricotta Gnocchi
(Image: Flickr user Moritz licensed under Creative Commons)