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Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese
Reading the label carefully was the key to choosing the best ricotta.
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What You Need To Know
Update: September 2013
The brand names Sorrento and Precious (frequently East- and West-coast versions of the same dairy products) are being eliminated by Groupe Lactalis, which has owned the business since the 1990s. The company reports that the recipes will remain the same, but the products will now be sold nationally under the brand name Galbani.
Originally crafted from the whey by-product of Romano cheesemaking, ricotta cheese has garnered fame on its own as a white, cushiony filling for baked pasta dishes. As ricotta has gained global popularity, however, preservation methods used by many large-scale manufacturers have turned these once fluffy, buttery, sweet curds into chalky, sour spreads. Seeking at least one noble specimen, we sampled four nationally available brands of part-skim ricotta.
The three commercially processed brands available in grocery stores consistently garnered unfavorable adjectives such as "rancid," "grainy," "soggy," and just plain "yucky." At the other end of the spectrum entirely sat our winner: "fresh," "creamy," and, as one taster put it, "perfect" curds-the hands-down favorite. Baked into rolls of pasta and smothered with homemade tomato sauce and fresh herbs, the differences were slightly less apparent, though not altogether unnoticed.
All three commercial brands are packed with gums and other stabilizers to guarantee shelf-stability for weeks. Our favorite's curds, on the other hand, are fresh-drawn from nothing other than Vermont farm whole milk, skim milk, a starter, and a sprinkle of salt. Granted, the latter's shelf life spans only a matter of days, but one spoonful should be enough to guarantee its quick disappearance from your fridge. If you can't find this particular brand, read labels and look for another fresh ricotta without gums or stabilizers.
Everything We Tested
The only freshly made ricotta of the bunch, Calabro stood out for its clean flavor and creamy texture. (Also available at 1-203-469-1311; see www.calabrocheese.com for store locations.)
A higher fat content here didn’t yield more flavor; rather, tasters found this cheese "grainy," "soapy," and "bland."
A "strangely yellow" hue and "pasty" and "unpleasantly sweet" flavors plummeted this sample to the bottom in the raw tasting.
Tasters found this cheese’s texture most unappealing, describing the curds as "chewy," "dry," and "pebbly."
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