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It's Time to Call BS on 'House-Made' Ricotta

I feel like it’s my duty as a cheesemonger to clarify a commonly misused terminology in the queso category: ricotta. Let’s step into the cheesy laboratory of technical terms to discuss how ricotta is really made so you can call bullshit the next time...
June 30, 2014, 2:08pm
Photo by Janelle Jones

I feel like it's my duty to clarify a commonly misused terminology of queso. There are often times when you go into your local bougie farm-to-table Italian bistro (I live in New York, but I could be talking about San Francisco, London, Portland, Tulum, Paris, or even Nashville) that you'll find a faux-antiqued, tea-dyed menu with handwritten scribble that boasts "housemade ricotta," usually served with some sort of rosemary and pancetta (but it's really bacon) focaccia. As a cheesemonger, I must call bullshit. Unless the cooks in the back of the kitchen have vats of whey discarded from some massive cheesemaking producer around the corner—the real process of making ricotta yields a very small amount since most of the proteins and curds have been used in the actual cheesemaking—that shit is really just milk with some sort of acid to curdle it right up. Let's step into the laboratory and discuss how ricotta is really made. Please don your hair nets and lab coats, because shit's gonna get a little messy.

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Don't worry, you still look like a pimp.

Ricotta, which literally means, "recooked" in Italiano, is the product of some clever ass dairymen who needed to stretch out what they had. After the day's production of killer cheese (like catching a rip nine level wave off of the coast of Bali quality), you have buckets upon buckets of whey and not much else to feed the fam or stuff to bring to the market. Some stoned genius thought, If we just cook the shit out of this whey, maybe something great will come out. Boy, was that dude or dudette so right.

Most of the milk proteins (also known as caseins) found in milk are used up to make this killer cheese. What you've got left is some cloudy liquid whey that's got some killer keratin up in there. Once the whey is left out for bit of time, it starts to ferment—just a tad—which raises its acidity level. Once that tangy shit is boiled up, all the keratins stick together and BLAMO! You've got yourself some fine ass ricotta—that is once you strain it through some cheese cloth, sieve, or pipe screen. Or something.

Ricotta is not just some milk with a squirt of lemon, boiled up and strained. That would be called, well, "milk with some lemon juice that's been boiled and strained." But that doesn't read all that nice on a menu, and really, who besides a cheesemonger or a cheesemaker really knows these things? Well, now you know, and it's up to you to care to set the record straight. Just think if some poser was calling a puny three-footer 'the wave of a lifetime!' you'd be pretty pissed too. So let's school 'em.