Fresh Ricotta cream Cheese on wooden board with basil. Dark wooden background. Top view

11 Interesting Facts About Ricotta Cheese

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Ricotta cheese is a delicious Italian ingredient that adds creamy texture and subtle sweetness to both savory and sweet dishes. From lasagna to cheesecake to cannoli, ricotta is a versatile cheese that is popular around the world. But there’s more to ricotta than meets the eye. Keep reading for 11 fascinating facts about this remarkable cheese!

1. Ricotta Is Not Technically a Cheese

While we call it cheese and use it like cheese, ricotta doesn’t qualify as true cheese. That’s because authentic ricotta is made from the whey leftover during cheesemaking, not directly from milk curds like most cheeses. The whey is heated, causing the remaining proteins to coagulate into soft, white curds – and voila! Soft and spreadable ricotta is born.

2. Its Name Means “Recooked”

The name “ricotta” comes from the Italian words “ri” and “cotta,” meaning recooked. This refers to the process of making ricotta by reheating the whey. The leftover whey was considered waste before cheesemakers realized it could be “recooked” to produce ricotta

3. Ricotta Has Ancient Origins

Cheese historians believe ricotta production dates back to the Bronze Age in Italy. Ceramic vessels called milk boilers were used to make the first ricotta. Even the ancient Romans produced ricotta, with references found in the writings of Marcus Terentius Varro.

4. It Was Originally Made from Sheep’s Milk

ricotta cheese with basil and tomatoes

Traditional Italian ricotta was always made with whey from sheep’s milk which was a byproduct of pecorino romano cheese production. Sheep’s milk yields exceptionally rich and flavorful ricotta. However, most ricotta today uses cow’s milk whey for a more affordable product.

5. Ricotta Is Low in Fat and Calories

Part of what makes ricotta so creamy and delicious is that it’s naturally low in fat and calories compared to many kinds of cheese. Whole milk ricotta typically contains around 5-10% fat, while part-skim is even lower. So you can indulge with less guilt!

6. It’s Packed with Protein

Ricotta is an excellent source of high-quality whey protein to support muscle growth and satisfaction. Just half a cup provides around 15g of protein. The combination of protein, calcium, and other nutrients also makes ricotta helpful for weight loss diets.

7. Ricotta Provides Plenty of Bone-Building Calcium

Speaking of calcium, ricotta delivers big time. One cup serves up around 30% of your recommended daily calcium. That makes ricotta a bone-friendly food to help prevent osteoporosis down the road.

8. Saltless Ricotta Has a Short Shelf Life

Freshly made ricotta has a gloriously sweet and milky flavor – but that delicate flavor comes at a price. Without salt or preservatives, fresh ricotta only lasts around 7-10 days refrigerated. That’s why most commercial ricotta contains salt as a preservative.

9. There Are Many Ways to Enjoy Ricotta

While lasagna and ravioli are ricotta hot spots, there are endless ways to eat this cheese. Use it to make dips, spreads, pancakes, gnocchi, frittatas, crepes, biscuits, and so much more. And it’s equally delicious in sweet applications like cheesecake!

10. Ricotta Salata Is a Whole Different Cheese

Fresh ricotta cheese in a white sieve close up , cottage cheese in a sieve ,soft ricotta cheese
Fresh ricotta cheese in a white sieve close up , cottage cheese in a sieve ,soft ricotta cheese

There’s another type of Italian cheese called ricotta salata. But despite its name, ricotta salata is not the same thing. It’s made by pressing salted ricotta curd until firm, then aging for at least 90 days to develop a crumbly, salty texture.

11. You Can Make Homemade Ricotta

Interested in making your ricotta? As long as you have good-quality milk, cream, and distilled vinegar or lemon juice, it’s easy. Simply heat the dairy, add an acid, then drain the curds – no special equipment required. Homemade ricotta boasts an incredible fresh, milky sweetness.

Key Takeaways

  • Ricotta is made from reheated whey, not directly from milk like most cheeses
  • The name “ricotta” means recooked in Italian
  • Ricotta likely dates back over 3,000 years to the Bronze Age
  • It offers high protein and calcium levels plus relatively low fat
  • Fresh ricotta has a short shelf life while salted lasts longer
  • Beyond Italian cuisine, ricotta adds creamy texture to both sweet and savory dishes

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ricotta cheese made of?

Authentic ricotta is made by heating the whey that remains after milk has been curdled and strained during cheesemaking. The proteins in the whey coagulate into soft white curds, which are collected by draining the liquid off.

Is ricotta healthy? 

Yes! Compared to many cheeses, ricotta is low in fat and calories but high in protein and calcium. Part-skim varieties are especially diet-friendly. The combination of protein, calcium, and other nutrients also makes ricotta helpful for weight loss diets.

How long does fresh ricotta last?

Because it contains no preservatives or salt, fresh ricotta has a relatively short shelf life of just 7-10 days when properly refrigerated. For a longer-lasting product, opt for supermarket ricotta that contains salt as a preservative. Properly stored, this lasts 2-3 weeks refrigerated.

Can you freeze ricotta?

Yes, freezing is a great way to preserve fresh ricotta if you can’t use it all within 7-10 days. Make sure to drain excess whey first as this can cause texture issues when frozen. Thaw frozen ricotta overnight in the fridge before using.

What dishes use ricotta?

Ricotta shines in Italian cuisine, where it’s a star ingredient in lasagna, stuffed pasta shells, ravioli, cannoli, and cheesecake. But it also adds rich flavor and texture to pancakes, dips, gnocchi, frittatas, biscuits, crepes, and so much more. Ricotta is equally at home in savory and sweet dishes.

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