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    Ricotta cheese

    Ricotta, a fresh, soft, non-aged Italian cheese is made from "re-cooking" the whey left over when full fat cheeses are made. Further heating of this whey allows all the protein solids like alpha and beta lactalbumins, globulins, lactoferrin, etc, to coagulate and clump together as solid granules into delicious cheese mass.

    It is naturally low in fat and salt and has a delicate, smooth flavor that works well in confectionaries.

    ricotta cheese
    Fresh whey ricotta cheese. Courtesy: Rebecca siegel

    Preparation of ricotta cheese:

    Ricotta is a very simple cheese to make but it demands large volume of whey to prepare even a small portion of cheese. Acidified whey from previous batch of cheese acts as its own coagulant, making it unnecessary to add vinegar or lemon juice to separate the curd. The end result is white creamy cheese mass, clumped together with fine, grainy textured milk-solids.

    Equipments required include vat (or large bowl), cheesecloth, fine-mesh strainer, saucepan, thermometer and ladle.

    Traditionally, the whey intended to prepare ricotta cheese is poured into a clean, wide-mouthed bowl and heated till it reaches near-boiling point-175 degrees F. Once you see enough curdling done, turn off the stove. Allow curds to separate from the whey for about 15-30 minutes. Drain the curd using cheesecloth until all the whey run out. The result is a soft, moist cheese that has very low fat content.

    However, modern dairies often add whole/skim milk to the whey to increase cheese mass. In this case, food acid like lemon juice (citric acid) is added to curdle milk-whey blend while it continues to boil.

    There are several types of ricotta:

    • Ricotta romano is made from sheep's rather than cow's milk and is available only from fall to early summer.

    • Ricotta salata is salted and dried.

    • Ricotta affumicata is smoked cheese from Sothern Italian Province Calabaria.

    • Smoked ricotta is a specialty produce of mountainous Northern Italy.

    • Ricotta infonata is produced in Sicily which is baked in the oven until it is lightly browned.

    Nutrition facts and Health benefits of ricotta cheese

    • Ricotta is the most famous, traditional Italian whey cheese. Non-salted and un-ripened ricotta is low-calorie, nutritious and protein and mineral rich dairy product. 100 g fresh skim-milk ricotta carries just 81 cal/100g.

    • Lactose content in fresh ricotta is relatively smaller than other soft cheese like mozzarella, cottage cheese, etc. Some traditional aged ricotta composes very small amounts of lactose (0.1 g/oz) which makes it easier to digest in lactose intolerance people. Certain enzymes in ripening cheese convert lactose into more easily digestible lactic acid.

    • Ricotta is gluten-free dairy product which makes it an important food item that is rich in protein, minerals and vitamins for Celiac disease people.

    • It contains good amounts of calcium (240 mg/100 g or 24% of DA), magnesium and phosphorous; and together with vitamin-D these minerals work in the growth and development of bone and teeth, especially in the children.

    • 100 g of it provides 11.89 g of high-quality protein that is rich in all essential amino acids required for growth and development and robust health.

    • It is an healthy food product since most of the constituents in whey undergo biochemical changes into more easily digestible and health benefiting products.

    • Ricotta contains all the vitamins available in the milk, both fat-soluble and B-complex group of vitamins. It is particularly rich in riboflavin (0.190 mg or 16% of DA/100g) and vitamin A (342 IU/100g).

    • Ricotta also holds modest levels of zinc, selenium, iron, pyridoxine, vitamin E, and manganese. These minerals and vitamins take part in various metabolic functions in humans.


    See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:
    Ricotta cheese, Nutritive value per 100 g.
    (Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
    Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
    Energy 156 Kcal 8%
    Carbohydrates 4.09g 3.1%
    Protein 11.32g 20%
    Total Fat 11g 55%
    Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
    Vitamins
    Folates 4 μg 1%
    Niacin 0.91 mg <1%
    Pyridoxine 0.032 mg 2.5%
    Riboflavin 0.19 mg 16%
    Thiamin 0.017 mg 1.5%
    Vitamin-A 342 IU 11.4%
    Vitamin-C 0 mg 0%
    Vitamin-D 0.2 μg 0%
    Vitamin-E 0.09 mg <%
    Vitamin K 0.9 μg <%
    Electrolytes
    Sodium 92 mg 6%
    Potassium 115 mg 2.5%
    Minerals
    Calcium 240 mg 24%
    Copper 0.028 mg 3%
    Iron 0.41 mg 5%
    Magnesium 13 mg 3%
    Phosphorus 170 mg 24%
    Selenium 15.6 μg 28%
    Zinc 1.25 mg 11%

    Buying

    While buying, consider what type of ricotta you intend to buy depending upon the composition of fat and moisture contents.

    Whole milk ricotta is manufactured from whole milk, and the finished product shall contain no more than 80% moisture and not less than 11% milk fat.

    Part-skim ricotta is manufactured from milk with reduced milk fat content, and the finished product shall contain not more than 80% moisture and less than 11% but not less than 6% milk fat.

    Ricotta (Ricotone) from whey is manufactured from whey, and the finished product shall contain not more than 82.5% moisture and less than 1% milk fat.

    Fresh ricotta cheese is readily available year-round in groceries and supermarkets. Buy fresh ricotta in sealed containers/packs from refrigerated sections.

    Good ricotta should be soft, creamy and moist and grainy. It should be clear white or creamy with sweet or slightly acidic flavor. Avoid any off-flavored, beyond date products.


    Storing

    Being a fresh and soft cheese, ricotta is highly perishable and must be refrigerated in a well-sealed container. If you prepare it in home, make small batches frequently and store well in the fridge for up to a week.


    Food uses

    Ricotta is a whey-based cheese and best used as a dessert cheese and in pastries. It blends well with sugar, condiment spices and berry fruits, or used in a wide range of savory pasta dishes.

    Here are some serving tips:

    Ravioli - ricotta stffed
    Ravioli - ricotta stffed. Courtesy: Pan Pacific
    • Enjoy fresh ricotta mixed thoroughly with fruits and dried nuts as a dessert.

    • Prepare spinach and ricotta cheese stuffed - ravioli and serve with sage butter or creamy tomato sauce.

    • In Russia and other Eastern European nations, ricotta is substituted for tvoróg (творо́г) in delicious Syrniki (сырники), a traditional sweet pancake.


    Safety profile

    Ricotta is a soft, low calorie cheese and is low in sodium and saturated fats, and therefore, recommended as healthy dairy product in those who are on low sodium and fat diet program.

    Ricotta cheese contains small amounts of tyramine, and can be eaten in small quantities by those on tyramine-restricted diet. (Source: Queensland Government-low tyramine diet: MAOI's and diet.)


    <<-You may also like to read-American Cream cheese nutrition facts.

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    Further Resources:

    1. USDA National Nutrient Database. (opens in new window).

    2. - USDA Specifications for Ricotta Cheeses. (opens in new window).

    3. Queensland Government- low tyramine diet..




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