That classic tub of ricotta cheese makes a great ingredient for any meal. It can be served on bread, with pizza, or baked in a pancake! What most people do not realize is the long process that goes into producing the container of cheese you find at the supermarket. The authentic way of producing ricotta cheese is unique, as it differs from most other cheeses. But is supermarket ricotta cheese truly authentic?

Lauren Zami

The Process

The ricotta cheese-making process begins by boiling milk with an acid or bacteria starter culture. The purpose of these ingredients is to denature the two proteins found in milk: casein and whey. Once the proteins are denatured, they will coagulate ​​to alter their state from a fluid to a solid. The resulting product is two distinct parts, one solid and one liquid. The curds (the casein protein) are separated out through a cheesecloth and pressed to form a solid cheese, while the liquid (the whey protein) is usually disregarded.

Lauren Zami

Ricotta cheese is exceptional in that it utilizes the liquid whey protein in the cheese-making process! Instead of throwing it in the garbage, the whey is repurposed. First, it is boiled again with more acid. Since whey denatures in the presence of heat, it will coagulate and turn lumpy. Once this occurs, the pot can be emptied into a cheesecloth to be strained, and the authentic ricotta cheese is complete! Serve it on a piece of toast and you have a nice meal!

Why Ricotta is Unique 

This long process is actually what gives ricotta cheese its name. Its name translates to “recooked” in Italian, as “cotta” is the past tense of the verb “to cook.” Unlike most cheeses, real ricotta cheese is cooked twice. First, the milk is boiled, and then the whey is cooked again. Unfortunately, many people (even YouTube cooks like Babish) are unaware of the meaning of the word “ricotta” and do not recook the cheese when preparing it.

How can you get REAL ricotta?

So, is the inexpensive, mass-produced cheese you’re buying in the grocery store authentic ricotta cheese? Thankfully, there is a simple test: the ingredients list. Whey or pasteurized whey should be the first ingredient on the list. Technically speaking, milk should not be listed at all, but adding milk creates more of the product at an affordable price. Next time you purchase ricotta cheese, consider examining the ingredients to make sure you are buying the real deal! And if you are making ricotta cheese at home, make sure to conduct the cooking process twice. Happy eating!