Ricotta Salata is like an older sibling of regular Ricotta. The words 'Ricotta' means re-cooked and 'Salata' means salted. Both are traditional Italian cheeses made from sheep's milk whey (Ricotta Salata is Sicilian). Both have a creamy texture and mild, nutty flavor. But unlike regular Ricotta, which is loose and can be eaten with a spoon, Ricotta Salata is salted, formed into a wheel and aged for several months. The flavor is a bit saltier and the texture is still creamy, but firm enough to crumble, grate or carefully slice.
Making Ricotta Salata
Ricotta salata is produced in the south of Italy; in Lazio, it is made from whey that comes from the production of Pecorino Romano, but in Basilicata, it can also be made from goat whey. The curds are molded into a basket. the combined actions of first pressing and then salting the cheese extracts moisture and compacts the curds to produce a tight, uniform texture. There is an additional sensory ride from ricotta salata's distinctive, snowy-white color, which stands out strikingly against other vivid food hues.
Finishing a Dish
Ricotta Salata, of the Pecorino family, is versatile cheese that's often grated or crumbled on top of food to finish a dish. Try it on salad, pasta, pizza, roasted vegetables and beans, grilled peaches or pineapple. Ricotta Salata can also be served with a platter of raw vegetables, olives, and cured meat. It also works well served cubed as a table cheese or as part of an antipasto platter.
Ricotta Salata Substitutes
Can't find Ricotta Salata? Try using Feta cheese instead. Although feta is saltier and tangier, the texture is very similar to Ricotta Salata. If you'd like to stick with an Italian cheese, Pecorino Romano can also be used in place of Ricotta Salata. The Greek cheese Mizithra is also a decent substitute for Ricotta Salata.
The Mexican cheese Cotija is also similar to Ricotta Salata, however, the texture is drier and the flavor isn't particularly nutty at all.
Another Type of Ricotta: Ricotta Infornata
In addition to Ricotta Salata, you might see Ricotta Infornata at the store. Ricotta Infornata is firm enough to be cut into wedges and has a soft, crumbly texture. The flavor is mild, with hints of toasted nuts. The main difference between Ricotta Salata and Ricotta Infornata is that wheels of Ricotta Infornata are baked, giving the cheese a thin, brown rind.
This article in Saveur magazine is a good visual guide to 10 different types of Ricotta cheese including smoked Ricotta, Ricotta Salata al Peperoncino, Ricotta Forte and Buffalo milk Ricotta.
More About Sicilian Cheese
The cheese of Sicily is rustic, often salty, and almost always uniquely flavorful. In addition to Ricotta Salata, Sicily is known for many other types of aged sheep's milk cheeses referred to as Pecorino Siciliano. Within this group, there are many cheeses. All are denser, richer and aged longer than Ricotta Salata is. Two examples are Incanestrato (dry and full-flavored) and Pepato (flavored with black peppercorns).
Caciocavallo is another cheese Sicily is known for. It is made from cow's milk and has a semi-hard texture and salty, grassy flavor.