Go to your local supermarket and buy a tub of ricotta and I can guarantee you that it will read “whole milk ricotta”. While it most certainly tastes great, it is not real ricotta. Its fake ricotta, forced ricotta, a ricotta that never got to live up to its full potential.
True ricotta, while common in Italy, is hard to find in the United States. You see, ricotta cheese is traditionally made from the whey leftover from the process of making mozzarella. While it is a great way to eke some extra product out of the milk, it has an incredibly low yield (less than a 1/4 cup of ricotta from 3 gallons of whey usually) and is therefore not cost-effective to make on a commercial-scale.
Most ricotta you find in the grocery store is what I like to call “forced” ricotta – in that they use an enzyme to force the separation of the curds from the whey and then drain it to the desired spreadable consistency. Here at Hillsborough Cheese Company we make real ricotta from our mozzarella whey, and while it takes a little extra time, once you taste it you’ll never go back to the fake stuff!
Check out this page from one of my favorite sources for cheese information, Fias Co Farm, for more information on ricotta and instructions on how you can make the real (and the fake) ricotta in your own kitchen!