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Like other whey cheeses, it is made by coagulating the keratin proteins that remain after the casein has been used to make cheese, notably albumin and globulin. Thus, ricotta can be eaten by persons with casein intolerance.
Ricotta (literally meaning "recooked") uses whey, the liquid that remains after straining curds when making cheese. Most of the milk protein (especially casein) is removed when cheese is made, but some protein remains in the whey, mostly albumin. This remaining protein can be harvested if the whey is first allowed to become more acidic by additional fermentation (by letting it sit for 12–24 hours at room temperature). Then the acidified whey is heated to near boiling. The combination of low pH and high temperature denatures the protein and causes it to precipitate out, forming a fine curd. Once cooled, the curd is separated by passing through a fine cloth.
Ricotta curds are creamy white in appearance, slightly sweet in taste, and contain around 13% fat. In this form, it is somewhat similar in texture to some cottage cheese variants, though considerably lighter. It is highly perishable. However, ricotta also comes in aged varieties which are preservable for much longer.
Whey contains little protein. This means ricotta production is a low-yield process, considering the amount of whey required to produce it. The whey is heated, sometimes with additional acid like vinegar or lemon juice or olive oil, to catalyze the coagulation through heat of albumin and globulin in the whey. The whey is heated to a near-boiling temperature, much hotter than during the production of the original cheese, of which the whey is a remnant. This use for the whey has ancient origins and is referred to by Cato the Elder.
Common culinary uses
Like mascarpone in northern-Italian cuisine, ricotta is a favorite component of many Italian desserts, such as cheesecakes and cannoli. There are also a variety of different cookies that include ricotta as an ingredient.
Ricotta can be beaten smooth and mixed with condiments, such as sugar, cinnamon, orange flower water, strawberries, and occasionally chocolate shavings, and served as a dessert. This basic combination (often with additions such as citrus and pistachios) also features prominently as the filling of the crunchy tubular shell of the Sicilian cannoli, and layered with slices of cake in Palermo's cassata.
It also makes a suitable substitute for mayonnaise in traditional egg or tuna salad and as a sauce thickener.
It is often used as a substitute for paneer in the Indian dessert known as Ras Malai. However, paneer is mostly casein protein, similar to Cottage Cheese, while Ricotta is made of all whey protein. Studies suggest that "supplementation with whey protein improves blood pressure and vascular function in overweight and obese individuals".
Ricotta salata is a pressed, salted, dried, and aged variety of the cheese. It is milky-white and firm, and used for grating or shaving. Ricotta salata is sold in wheels, decorated by a delicate basket-weave pattern.
Ricotta infornata is produced by placing a large lump of soft ricotta in the oven until it develops a brown, lightly charred crust, sometimes even until it becomes sandy brown all the way through. Ricotta infornata is popular primarily in Sardinia and Sicily, and is sometimes called ricotta al forno.
Ricotta affumicata is similar to ricotta infornata. It is produced by placing a lump of soft ricotta in a smoker until it develops a grey crust and acquires a charred wood scent, usually of oak or chestnut wood, although, in Friuli, beech wood is used, with the addition of juniper and herbs.
Ricotta forte, also known as ricotta scanta, is produced from leftovers of any combination of cow, goat or sheep milk ricotta. These are allowed to ferment for approximately a year, during which the cheese is mixed every two or three days to prevent the growth of mold. Salt is added as well. The end result is a soft and creamy brown paste which has a very pungent and piquant taste. It is produced in the southern part of the Province of Lecce and sold in glass jars. It is smeared on bread, mixed with tomato sauces for pasta or added to vegetable dishes.
While Italian ricotta is typically made from the whey of sheep, cow, goat, or Italian water buffalo milk, the American product is almost always made of cow's milk whey. While both types are low in fat and sodium, the Italian version is naturally sweet, while the American is a little saltier and more moist.
In Spanish, ricotta is known as requesón. It can be salted or sweetened for cooking purposes. It was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards and is sometimes used as filling for tlacoyos and tacos dorados and in the central west area (Jalisco, Michoacán and Colima), it is spread over tostadas or bolillos, or served as a side to beans. Though not as commonly used as the queso fresco. In Portugal and Brazil, a similar product is called requeijão.
Romanian urdă (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈurdə]), and Macedonian "urda" (урда) is made by reprocessing the whey drained from any type of cheese. Urdă is thus similar to fresh ricotta as its fabrication implies the same technological process. However, Romanian urdă is neither smoked, nor baked in the oven like some variants of the Italian ricotta. Besides, urdă is used mainly in desserts, not in other types of dishes. Urdă has been produced by Romanian shepherds since time immemorial and is consequently regarded by Romanians as a Romanian traditional product.
Indian khoa is often confused with ricotta, but the two are very different. It is lower in moisture and made from whole milk instead of whey.
Ricotta is rather similar to Indian Chhena or Paneer and not at all like khoa and can be substituted for the same. In the making of Indian sweets such as "sondesh" or the likes of "Palak Paneer", however the contents of Indian Paneer/Channa is whole milk usually from water buffalo as the milk is high in fat content, or it can be goat milk or cow. It is always whole milk. Process of getting the curds is by use of citric acid or lime juice/ lemon juice, never rennet.
Albanian gjiza is made by boiling whey for about 15 minutes. The derivate is drained 3 to 4 times with a napkin or piece of cloth and salted to taste. Gjiza can be served immediately or refrigerated for a couple of days.
- "Formaggi tipici italiani: Ricotta Romana DOP" (in Italian). Agraria.org - Istruzione Agraria online.
- Locatelli, Giorgio (2011). Made in Italy: Food and Stories. HaperCollins. p. 548. ISBN 978-0-06-204727-4.
- The Chronic Effects of Whey Proteins on Blood Pressure, Vascular Function, and Inflammatory Markers in Overweight Individuals Nature, 2009-11-05.
- MondoFriuli (Italian) (click on Formaggi)
- Herbst, Sharon T.; Herbst, Ron (2010). The Cheese Lover's Companion: The Ultimate A-to-Z Cheese Guide with More Than 1,000 Listings for Cheeses and Cheese-Related Terms. HarperCollins. pp. 394–397. ISBN 978-0-06-201155-8.
- Beresford, T.; Wiliams, A. (2004). "The Microbiology of Cheese Ripening". In Fox, Patrick F.; McSweeney, Paul L. H.; Cogan, Timothy M. et al. Cheese: Chemistry, Physics and Microbiology 1 (Third edition ed.). Academic Press. p. 298. ISBN 978-0-08-050093-5.
- Fabiano, Guatteri (2012). Formaggi. Conoscere e riconoscere le migliori produzioni dell'Italia e dell'Europa (in Italian). De Agostini. p. 184. ISBN 978-8-84-187697-8.
- DEX dictionary definition of urdă
- Jurnalul Oficial al Uniunii Europene - in the Romanian version of the Official Journal of the EU ricotta is translated by urdă (page 4, sub-chapter 5.3.).
- Official site of the Directia pentru Agricultura si Dezvoltare Rurala Sibiu - Urdă is presented as a traditional dairy product.
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