What: A look at the magic of ricotta and all it entails
Who: Perfect for people who like to surprise their guests with new cheese and pairing combinations.
Do you want a versatile cheese that’s easy to love? That reminds you of the glory of dairy, but without making you work too hard for it? Well pull up a chair and take out your spoon, because milky&mild cheeses are just the ticket.
The milky&mild Cheese Type
The cheeses in this category are fresh and soft, and, because they are only a few steps removed from milk and don’t include an aging process, they are milky with a mild, often sweet flavor. In America, the most common type of this cheese is ricotta, but there are many others throughout the world (including many versions of ricotta itself). But before we get to that, let’s first talk about how these cheeses are made, because they take a different (and much shorter) path than do any of the other cheese types.
To take a step back, the general path to most cheeses is that milk (most commonly cow, sheep, goat, or buffalo, but you can make cheese from other types of milks) is mixed with a bacterial culture and then coagulated (via rennet or acid), which causes it to split into the curds and whey (remember little Miss Muppet, who sat on her tuffet?) From there, the curds undergo some or many of the following steps: draining, stirring, cooking, stretching, molding, washing, piercing, and/or aging. Through one of these paths, you end up at the cheeses you know and love: cheddar, chèvre, goat, mozzarella, Taleggio, Brie…we could go on…and on….
But the milky&mild cheeses are a little different, because they are traditionally made not from the cheese curds, but from the whey that’s left over after making other cheeses. (For this reason, some people claim that these “whey cheeses” aren’t technically cheese, and to that we say: semantics be damned!). Whey is around 95% water, but it still has some residual milk solids that can be coaxed into coagulating yet again before being drained into a soft, pillowy, spoonable cheese. Here in the States, we also make a whole milk ricotta that is made from whole milk, instead of with the whey leftover from other cheesemaking. The whey versions are more custardy, while the whole milk versions are like delicate clouds (MMMMMmmmm...edible clouds...)
Cheeses in this category include:
- Ricotta (Italian)
- Requesón (Brazilian and Portuguese)
- Anari (Cypriot)
- Anthotyros (Greek)
- Brocciu (Corsican)
- Manouri (Greek)
- Mizithra (Greek)
- Rigouta (Tunisia)
- Urdă (Romanian)
Because these cheeses are unaged/fresh, they must be eaten fairly soon after production and thus are difficult to find outside their region of origin. All the more reason to seek out these types of cheeses when you travel!
How to Eat It
These cheeses can be very soft and spreadable, or more firm and crumbly, depending on the production. Because they don’t have a rind, they can be eaten in their entirety and are perfect for spreading on toast or a cracker, or simply eating with a spoon!
These cheeses are often sweet, but sometimes they can have tangy, nutty, and salty notes. Like most cheese categories, you will discover cheese from all four milk types here (sheep, cow, goat, buffalo).
In the US, a cow’s milk ricotta is the most common milky&mild cheese. But, if you're in Italy and you see a buffalo milk ricotta, be sure to grab it with both hands—it’s a real treat!
In general, you can use this guide to help you find a milk type you like (or ask your favorite monger for a taste!)
- Sheep's milk is saltier
- Cow's milk is creamier
- Goat's milk is tangier
- Buffalo milk is fattier/creamier
Favorite Flavor Profiles
Because these cheeses are pretty easy-going, the milky&mild category pairs well with all the flavor profiles. These cheeses are mild enough to be used in both sweet and savory pairings. So you can drizzle them with honey or sprinkle them with crunchy sea salt (or both!)
Favorite Beverage Profiles
In order to appreciate the delicate flavor of the milky&mild cheeses, we recommend you don’t choose a wine that will overpower them. Our best bets are the following types of wine:
- Sweet white
- Dry white
How to Shop for milky&mild Cheese
With milky&mild cheeses, the fresher the better, so be sure to look for the one with the latest “sell by” date, and inspect to make sure there is no mold (unlike with some of our cheeses types, you do NOT want mold on a milky&mild cheese!) Don’t be afraid to ask your monger about the differences—some are creamier, some are softer, some are nuttier, some are saltier—just because they're mild doesn't mean they're not distinct!
On a Cheese Plate
milky&mild cheeses often come in tubs or baskets—you can either place these directly on (or near) your cheeseboard, or take this opportunity to showcase a nice little bowl or serving dish. You can leave the cheese as is, or season with salt and pepper, or drizzle with olive oil or honey and sprinkle with herbs or spices.
Try making it at home! Because they don't include any of the steps required for other cheese types (pressing, aging, moulding, etc.), the milky&mild cheeses are actually the most accessible cheese for the novice cheesemaker. In fact, a whole milk ricotta is the easiest cheese to make at home, allowing you to take one small step into the great wide world of cheesemaking! All you need is whole milk, an acid, and a cheese cloth (a thermometer helps but isn't strictly necessary).
Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta
Click the icons to download a pdf of this lesson and our two handy guides: How Cheese is Made and Cheese and Pairing Types.