If you have had real ricotta, you know how far and away it is from the product in the plastic tubs at most grocery stores.
Although the grocery items are technically ricotta, they do not have the full, rich, creamy taste and texture that the hand-dipped version has. If you live in an area like NYC or New Jersey it is likely that you can easily find hand-dipped ricotta in your neighborhood Italian speciality store – mounded like an ice cream cone in special little baskets or metal cups. This ricotta was made from the leftover curds floating in a batch of whey, which was used to make fior di latte, or mozzarella. Once the curds have been cut and removed, the leftover whey is heated again (re-cooked, “ricotta”) and the curds that come to the surface are scooped out and placed into small vessels to let them drain. The curds meld into a beautiful, creamy, almost sweet cheese. This is real ricotta, and it is worth seeking out. In the Northeast, where I live, Calabro produces one for super markets. It comes in a tin cup wrapped in plastic – found in the specialty cheese section.
Real ricotta begs to be eaten as-is and not heated. I often dollop it over just-baked pizzas straight from the oven, drizzled with oil and dusted with cracked black pepper. Mix it with salt, oil and chopped basil, then spread on crostini. Mix it with sugar and pipe into cannoli. It is a special treat that has many applications and will highlight even the most simple of dishes.