Is ricotta one of your favorite things ever? Do you ever devise recipes centered solely around the incorporation of ricotta?
If you've ever faced the disappointment of an underwhelming, grainy, tasteless, version, then you might wonder why some ricotta is better — so much better — than others.
There's really nothing worse than opening up a package of ricotta and discovering a grainy — nearly sandy, sometimes! — texture beneath the lid.
It's easy to understand what makes ricotta great — careful cheesemaking, preferably by hand, and excellent raw ingredients. But what makes ricotta bad?
If ricotta is made solely with whey, which is actually the traditional way of making ricotta, there's less fat in the final product, and therefore a less smooth texture. That's one reason.
Another way to create a sub-par ricotta is by heating the milk too quickly during cheesemaking. Sure, it's faster to do so, but it's not a gentle way of treating the milk. Some ricotta is made in this fashion not only to be more efficient time-wise, but also to extract as many solids from the liquid whey. The more product you make, the more you can sell, so why not create more product, even if it's at the expense of quality? Cost-wise, this mentality just makes more sense for some companies.
Large companies (to go unnamed) who make ricotta often produce it from the whey left over from their mozzarella making. This makes sense, but if it's not fortified with enough milk or cream, the flavor and texture is bound to fall short.
I consulted with a cheesemaker for Salvatore ricotta, a Brooklyn-based, artisanal, small-batch ricotta company, who verified that it's all about the ingredients. "Starting with great milk, plus some cream, yields a product that's higher in fat that traditional ricotta, but which is silky and rich, with no trace of that grainy texture you see in supermarket ricotta," she says.
So buy the best ricotta you can. It's inspiring stuff, deserving of centerpiece status, and worth every extra minute it takes to make.
(Image: Emily Ho - Spring Appetizer Recipe: Crostini with Pea Shoots and Strawberries)