There has been a lot written about ricotta, a cheese that has been made for centuries. There are even sources from the Roman age that document the use of residual whey – left over from making other sheep’s milk cheeses – to make ricotta. However, the Greeks made a similar cheese called “oxygala” that is considered an ancient relative of ricotta. It is almost certain that ricotta, a by-product of more important cheeses, was consumed exclusively for its nutritional value by cheese-making sheepherders. They would eat it with bread or polenta.
Ricotta Romana DOP
Ricotta Romana DOP is made using the whey from whole sheep’s milk. The milk must come from the Sarda, Comisana, Sopravvissana, and Massese breeds and the sheep must be raised on pastures located exclusively in the region of Lazio. The special climate and environment of these pastures can be perceived in the sweet flavor of the whey. It is precisely the sweet flavor of Roman ricotta that distinguishes it from the others types of ricotta.
The cheesemaking guidelines permit the addition of whey during the heating phase of the whey (122°-140°F), but limit the amount to 15% of the volume of the whey of the whole sheep’s milk. The mixture is then heated to 185°-194°F, causing the whey proteins to precipitate out and form little curds. Then the curds are left to solidify without heating it any further, for about 5 minutes, and then a ricotta is transferred to cone-shaped baskets (traditionally made of wicker, but nowadays of metal or plastic). The largest baskets can hold up to 4.4 lb of ricotta. The cheese is left to drain the baskets for 8 to 24 hours and then placed to dry in cool rooms.
Ricotta can only be kept for a few days at 39°-40°F. It should have a lumpy texture, a white color and a sweet flavor. It can be paired with a number of dishes and desserts. It can also be served with bread, other dairy products, honey or compotes.