Derived from the Latin word Recoctus, ricotta is the term for whey that has been re-cooked. Leftover why from daily cheese making is heated to a temperature of approximately 185° Fahrenheit, at which point the proteins separate from the whey and form little lumps that rise to the surface. This ricotta is skimmed off using a strainer and transferred to rush baskets to drain, usually for three or four hours. The moist and fine-textured ricotta is then ready for the table.
Italian ricotta is typically made from the whey of sheep or water buffalo milk, and sometimes from goat’s or cows' milk. American ricotta is usually made from cows' milk whey, and is sweeter and moister than the Italian varieties, which are drier and nuttier than their American counterparts.
Ricotta is most commonly used in pasta dishes and desserts. In Italy, fresh ricotta is sold by weight and wrapped in paper. If possible, you should taste before purchasing to make sure it is fresh. If it feels prickly on the tongue or tastes sharp and /or fruity, it is no longer fresh.
Ricotta is used to make Sardinian Ravioli Cookies called Sebadas, found on page 494 in Molto Italiano. In Sardegna, ricotta is also placed in the oven and lightly smoked with a little salt. This is hung to drain until dry, and then grated overtop pasta dishes.