Ricotta is a mainstay of Italian cooking. You might see it referred to as a “milk cheese” although some insist it is not a cheese at all. Whey, which is a byproduct of cheese production, is used to make ricotta.

Not only is it a popular ingredient in such dishes as lasagna, ricotta is used in a wide variety of desserts as well, including cheesecake and turnovers.

All ricotta is high in calcium and some products are low in salt, which is a healthy alternative to many other cheeses.


While ricotta may have been discovered by the peasantry in ancient Rome, it gained favor with the affluent by the 15th century. The Latin variant – ricocta – means twice-cooked, which refers to the same process used today.


Italian ricottas are often named after the region of production, such as Siciliana, Romano, and Canestrata.

In specialty markets you may also find the following, although there can be name variations for each type:

  • Ricotta de Pecora – sheep’s cheese whey.
  • Ricotta Salata – salted to preserve shelf life.
  • Ricotta Infornata – salted and baked.
  • Ricotta Vaccina – made from whey of cow’s milk cheese.
  • Ricotta Secca – harder and used for grating.

Italian ricottas are mainly made of 100% whey while American products usually combine whey with milk (whole, low-fat, and nonfat).

Buying Tips

Choose the freshest possible and purchase only in quantities you can use within two or three days.

Small plastic tubs of ricotta will have a longer refrigerator life. The quality, texture, and flavor will be different from fresh, specialty products.

Storage Tips

Ricotta does not remain fresh long. Wrap in tightly sealed double layers and freeze if necessary. Allow it to thaw completely at refrigerated temperature.

As with all soft cheeses, if mold appears the entire piece should be discarded.