Ricotta cheese is a soft, slightly sweet, mild fresh cheese. The Italian name means "re-cooked," a reference to the fact that it is traditionally made from whey produced from making other cheeses, such as mozzarella, provolone or feta.
The original cheesemaking process removes the majority of the casein protein from the milk (the cheese) leaving behind the liquid whey portion.
When left at room temperature, the original innoculating bacteria continue to act upon the remaining lactose in the whey, converting it to lactic acid, and further lowering the pH of the liquid.
The lower pH reduces the solubility of the small amount of remaining protein in the whey. Heating the whey then causes the protein to precipitate out as a very fine-grained curd.
Since ricotta is basically the "leftovers" from cheesemaking, it takes a significant amount of whey to produce a small amount of ricotta.
Because of this, some recipes for making ricotta cheese call for the addition of whole milk to the whey in order to increase the yield.
Ricotta is similar in appearance to cottage cheese, but has a much smaller, grainier curd and slightly sweeter taste.
It may be best known in the United States as an ingredient in lasagna and ravioli, but it also serves as the basis for many desserts. Cheesecake and cannoli are two favorites.
Ricotta can also be served in a manner similar to a pudding by adding sweeteners and flavorings and stirring until smooth.
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