What is Ricotta Salata Cheese

A Chef’s Guide to Ricotta Salata

Ciao, dear readers! If you’ve been on this delightful journey with us at Italian Cooking and Living, you know that Italy isn’t just about pizza and pasta. It’s also about the rich tapestry of cheeses that elevate our dishes to gastronomic masterpieces.

Today, let’s delve into a cheese that’s a bit of an unsung hero in the vast world of Italian dairy: Ricotta Salata.


What is It?

So, what is Ricotta Salata? Originating from the sun-kissed island of Sicily, this snow-white cheese is a variation of the well-known Ricotta .

But unlike its creamy cousin, Ricotta Salata is spongy and smooth, made from lightly salted sheep’s milk curd. This curd is pressed, dried, and then aged for at least three months.

And while its name might suggest a salty flavor, it’s anything but. Instead, it offers a harmonious blend of nutty, milky, and sweet flavors, making it a versatile gem in Italian cooking.

Baked Ricotta Salata cheese

Ricotta Salata vs Ricotta

At first glance, Ricotta Salata might seem similar to regular Ricotta. However, while both hail from the same family, they have distinct characteristics.

Regular Ricotta is creamy and soft, often used as a filling for dishes like lasagna or cannoli.

Ricotta Salata, on the other hand, has a firmer texture due to its aging process. Its mellow taste and consistency make it a favorite for various culinary applications.

Learn more about regular Italian Ricotta cheese.


In the Kitchen

Ricotta Salata shines in a plethora of dishes. Perfect for tossing, it’s a star in salads or pasta dishes.

Imagine a bowl of fresh spinach salad, sprinkled with crumbled Ricotta Salata, or a plate of spaghetti with a garlicky veggie sauté, elevated with this cheese.

And if you’re in the mood for something simpler, serve it atop grilled vegetables or alongside beans and fruits.

For those who love a rich tomato sauce, try adding crumbled Ricotta Salata for an extra layer of flavor.

Ricotta Salata on a pasta

Substitutes

While Ricotta Salata holds a unique place in the world of cheeses, there are times when you might need a substitute, either due to availability issues or to experiment with flavors.

Here’s a list of potential Ricotta Salata substitutes, each with its own distinct characteristics:

1. Feta Cheese:

  • Description: Originating from Greece, Feta is a crumbly, tangy cheese made primarily from sheep’s milk, sometimes blended with goat’s milk.
  • Why it Works: Its crumbly texture and salty profile make it a close match to Ricotta Salata.
  • Best Used In: Salads, pastries, and as a topping for dishes.

2. Queso Fresco:

  • Description: A Mexican cheese, Queso Fresco is soft, crumbly, and mild in flavor.
  • Why it Works: While it’s less salty than Ricotta Salata, its texture is quite similar.
  • Best Used In: Tacos, salads, and as a garnish.

3. Paneer:

  • Description: An Indian cheese, Paneer is unsalted, firm, and does not melt.
  • Why it Works: Its firm texture can mimic Ricotta Salata, though it lacks the saltiness.
  • Best Used In: Curries, grilled dishes, and desserts.

4. Aged Cotija Cheese:

  • Description: Often referred to as the ‘Parmesan of Mexico’, Cotija is a hard, crumbly cheese.
  • Why it Works: Aged Cotija has a strong salty flavor, making it a good match in terms of taste.
  • Best Used In: Sprinkled over dishes, in salads, and as a topping.

5. Halloumi:

  • Description: A Cypriot cheese, Halloumi is semi-hard, brined, and has a high melting point.
  • Why it Works: Its salty flavor and firm texture can resemble Ricotta Salata, especially when grilled.
  • Best Used In: Grilled dishes, salads, and sandwiches.

6. Pecorino Romano:

  • Description: An Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk, Pecorino Romano is salty and hard.
  • Why it Works: Its saltiness and sheep’s milk base make it a closer match in flavor.
  • Best Used In: Grated over pasta, in sauces, and salads.

Which one is the best substitute then?

While all these cheeses can act as substitutes, the best one often depends on the dish you’re preparing.

For salads and dishes that require a crumbly texture, Feta and Queso Fresco are top contenders. However, for an authentic Italian touch, especially in pasta dishes, Pecorino Romano might be the closest in flavor.

If you’re looking to grill or fry the cheese, Halloumi is your best bet due to its high melting point. Ultimately, the choice boils down to personal preference and the specific requirements of your recipe.


Wine Pairings

Ah, the art of pairing wine with cheese! It’s a dance of flavors, where the right wine can elevate the taste of cheese, and vice versa. When it comes to Ricotta Salata, with its mellow blend of nutty, milky, and slightly sweet flavors, the wine pairing becomes an exciting journey.

1. White Wines:

  • Pinot Grigio: A light-bodied Italian classic, Pinot Grigio’s crisp acidity and citrus notes beautifully complement the subtle saltiness of Ricotta Salata.
  • Vermentino: Hailing from the coasts of Sardinia and Tuscany, Vermentino offers a zesty, mineral-rich profile. Its hints of pear and almond can accentuate the cheese’s creamy texture.

2. Red Wines:

  • Chianti: This Tuscan red, made primarily from the Sangiovese grape, has a medium body with flavors of cherry and plum. Its earthy undertones can enhance the nutty aspects of Ricotta Salata.
  • Barbera: Known for its juicy acidity and notes of dark cherry and blackberry, a Barbera from Piedmont can provide a delightful contrast to the cheese’s milky sweetness.

3. Rosé and Sparkling:

  • Italian Rosé: A dry rosé, especially those from the southern regions of Italy, can offer a refreshing palate cleanse, making each bite of Ricotta Salata feel anew.
  • Prosecco: The gentle bubbles and apple-pear notes of a well-chilled Prosecco can add a festive touch to your cheese platter, making Ricotta Salata’s flavors pop.

4. Dessert Wines:

  • Vin Santo: If you’re enjoying Ricotta Salata with fruits or as part of a dessert, a glass of Vin Santo, a sweet Tuscan wine, can be a delightful companion. Its honeyed richness can create a harmonious duo with the cheese’s subtle sweetness.

Tips for Pairing:

  • Temperature Matters: Ensure your wine is served at the right temperature. Whites and rosés should be chilled, reds served slightly below room temperature, and sparkling wines well-chilled.
  • Experiment and Explore: While these pairings are tried and tested, the beauty of wine and cheese lies in exploration. Don’t hesitate to try new combinations and discover what delights your palate.

In the world of Italian Cooking and Living, wine and cheese are more than just food and drink; they’re an experience, a journey through the heart of Italy.

So, the next time you savor a slice of Ricotta Salata, let a sip of wine transport you to the sun-drenched vineyards of Italy. Salute to delightful pairings!


Nutrition

While we love indulging in the flavors of Ricotta Salata, it’s also essential to understand its nutritional profile.

Like most cheeses, Ricotta Salata is a good source of protein and calcium. However, due to its aging process, it might have a slightly higher salt content. As always, moderation is key!


Storing Tips

Given its perishable nature, Ricotta Salata requires special attention when storing. It’s best to keep it refrigerated and consume it within a reasonable timeframe. And if you’re ordering it, remember it might require overnight shipping to ensure freshness.


Bottom Line

In the vast world of Italian cheeses, Ricotta Salata is a gem waiting to be discovered. Its versatility, unique flavor, and rich heritage make it a must-try for anyone passionate about Italian cuisine.

So, the next time you’re looking to elevate your dish, remember this Sicilian treasure. And as we always say here at Italian Cooking and Living, the best way to understand Italy is to taste it.

Buon appetito, amici! 🧀🍷🇮🇹

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