Among cheeses, ricotta cheese is unique in that it is made from whey instead of milk. Usually made using the whey that is a by-product in the creation of mozzarella or provolone cheeses, it takes a lot of this liquid to make a little ricotta cheese. To create it, the whey is boiled so that the remaining proteins curdle, and then the resulting solids are removed. The process is simple enough that ricotta cheese can be made at home.
Storing the Cheese
Ricotta cheese is what is known as a fresh cheese, meaning that it is not salted, smoked, or has any other processes applied to it in order lengthen its shelf life. In fact, if you notice any bit of mold on your cheese, do not try to remove it and use the rest of the container. While this may work in some cases, by the time mold shows up on ricotta cheese, it has gone bad. This cheese freezes very well, so if you have bought or made a lot, storing some in the freezer will extend its shelf life.
Cooking with Ricotta
Ricotta cheese has a very mild, even sweet flavor, which makes it a perfect choice for desserts. You can use ricotta cheese as an ingredient in cheesecake, and ricotta cheese that's been beaten smooth and mixed with sugar and other ingredients creates the filling for a cannoli. In an Italian dessert called a cassata, ricotta is put in between layers of cake, like frosting for a layered cake in the United States.
Though ricotta cheese is good for desserts, it's also great in savory dishes as well. Some lasagna recipes call for the use of ricotta, adding its mild flavor to the mix. Its flavor and its softness also have made it an ideal choice for many stuffed pastas, from ravioli to variations like manicotti and stuffed shells.
Though ricotta is a fresh cheese, there are ways to prepare it that gives it a longer shelf life. Salted and pressed like a regular cheese, it becomes a hard cheese that's best suited for grating or shaving slices off of. You can also bake ricotta cheese, which gives it a brown crust, sometimes going all the way through the cheese. Another similar method uses smoking instead of baking in order to give ricotta a flavorful crust that aids in storage. But whether you use it fresh or try one of the preserved variants, ricotta cheese is a great food to use in your cooking.
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