Ricotta is originally an Italian cheese with a mild, milky flavor appropriate for both sweet and savory recipes. Traditionally, cheesemakers made fresh ricotta by heating whey until it thickens into soft, fluffy curds. Since it is made from whey, a by-product of the cheesemaking process, ricotta is not technically considered a cheese. Most people do think of it as a cheese anyway, though.
Some cheesemakers still make ricotta from whey but some now make it from whole milk. The milk or whey for ricotta is traditionally from sheep's milk, but cow's milk ricotta is not uncommon, especially in the US. The milk or whey for ricotta is thickened by adding lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk or rennet. Home cheesemakers often use the first three options, because they are easily found in stores.
There are three different types of ricotta that are sold most often stores. Fresh ricotta, Ricotta Infornata, and Ricotta Salata.
Fresh ricotta is fluffy, creamy, spreadable. It can be spooned into a dish and baked in the oven to become baked ricotta. The top browns and is slightly crusty and toasted and the middle is warm and creamy. Fresh ricotta can also be baked into dishes or used as an ingredient in baked goods.
Ricotta Infornata is ricotta that has been gently baked into a wheel of cheese that has a thin, toasted rind and mild, slightly sweet flavor. The center is soft but crumbly. It can be crumbled onto food or served with fruit and bread for a light snack or breakfast.
The third type of ricotta, Ricotta Salata, is a salted, dried and aged form of Ricotta. The texture is crumbly and the flavor is mild but salty. It can be crumbled or grated over pasta, salads or pizza or eaten alone with salami and fruit. Ricotta Salata originated from Sicily and like many types of cheese from that region is made from sheep's milk.
Other Kinds of Ricotta
Other types of ricotta seen less often outside of Italy are Ricotta Affumicata, or smoked ricotta, and Ricotta Forte, a pungent, funky-tasting version of ricotta.
Savory Ricotta Recipes:
Sweet Ricotta Recipes: