Ricotta is a soft, unripened Italian cheese made from cow's milk and whey. It has a fresh, slightly sweet flavor that can range from mild to sharp when aged. Ricotta is traditionally used in Italian desserts like cheesecakes or cannoli, but it can also be served as an appetizer with olive oil and sea salt, as well as on top of pasta dishes.
The milk must first be boiled in order to form curds which are then placed in hot whey for 10 minutes before being transferred to cloth-lined boxes or molds. Whey continues to drain out of the cheese for about 2 hours before it reaches its final consistency.
The manufacturing process is complex, but the cheese rarely leaves the site of manufacture. It is commonly made in stainless steel or plastic molds which can be stacked on top of each other to increase production capacity. There may be several different types of molds or the same mold may be used for different strengths and textures, so that a single batch might have several varieties. In restaurants, ricotta is also often made in house by trained chefs using specific molds with a variety of shapes and sizes that are fit together like legos. The final product is sent to packaging companies where it can be formed into a cake or put into plastic-lined boxes for retail sale.
Because it is an unripened cheese with a low acidity, Ricotta must be refrigerated to preserve its freshness and extend its shelf life. However, if the cheese is removed from refrigeration, the whey will separate from the curds and the texture will become grainy when it comes in contact with warm air.
Ricotta has been popular in Italy since Roman times when "Caseus" was made from sheep's milk. It can be traced back to 1000 BC where it was first produced by boiling down sheep's milk and straining out solids. Over time, cow's milk took over as sheep’s became less common on Italian farms.
Ricotta is still made from sheep's milk in Sardinia, Puglia, and Sicily in southern Italy. In the rest of Italy, it is produced exclusively from cow's milk. The word "Ricotta" actually means "recooked." This is because the cheesemakers would take leftover whey and boil it down to form a new cheese. There are many different varieties, but the most popular are fresh and smoked. It has been used in cooking since Roman times when it was served with honey or fruit preserves as a dessert.
Whey protein is made by separating the solid parts from liquid cow milk making for a by-product that can be used to make ricotta cheese, among other things. This type of protein helps promote muscle development in humans as well as other animals. The protein found in whey can also be used as a food additive. Whey protein is added to foods such as breads, cakes, cereals, beverages and pasta dishes. Many studies have shown that whey protein aids in weight loss and improves body composition.
Although the research in this area continues to grow daily, some of the current findings include:
Whey's effect on muscle recovery was first studied by British researchers in the early 1970s when they looked at the influence of body weight change on muscle recovery after a bout of exercise. The researchers found that increased body weight gain following exercise was positively correlated with faster recovery of muscle strength and power. Another early study looked at the amino acid profile in milk and its influence on humans. The study showed that a diet consisting of two servings of milk per day had a great impact on plasma levels of leucine, isoleucine and valine, all essential amino acids for muscle growth and health.
Whey can play an important role in protein quality assessment due to its concentration of essential amino acids (EAAs), especially branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).