Question: What is Baked Ricotta?
When people talk about baked ricotta, they could be talking about one of two things. There are recipes for baking fresh ricotta cheese at home, turning it into a creamy, warm amazing dish and then there is Ricotta Infornata, a type of baked ricotta cheese sold in stores.
Answer: Let's start with a discussion about fresh ricotta cheese. 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 (the liquid that remains after curds form during the cheesemaking process) until it thickens into soft, fluffy curds. Because it is made from whey, a by-prodcut of the cheesemaking process, ricotta is not technically considered a cheese. However, most people do think of it as a cheese anyway.
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 uncommmon, 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.
Step-by-Step visual instructions for making fresh ricotta at home
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.
Savory Ricotta Recipes
Sweet Ricotta Recipes
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.
Grilled Chicken Salad with Ricotta Infornata
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 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.