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Mugello today continues to breed sheep for the production of milk and therefore the production of delicious ricotta cheese. Ricotta is known as an albumin or serum cheese, a cheese made as a by-product of cheese from the recooked whey, hence the name, ricotta, “re-cooked".

The characteristics

Ricotta is a fresh cheese made from the whey as it is separated from the curds when making cheese. It is produced from cow’s milk whey, sheep’s milk whey, or a mixture of both. Like in cottage cheese, the finished product takes the shape of the container, usually a truncated cone, with flat sides, and is shiny white. It is creamy, although the texture is spongier if made from sheep’s milk, with a mild, fresh taste and a strong aroma of milk. It comes in ½ kilo to 2 kilo sizes, but the standard size is 1.5 kg.

The Ricotta cheeseThe Ricotta cheese

The history

Vasari writes that Giotto, whose real name was Agnolo di Bondone, was born in the year 1266, in Vespignano, near Vicchio.
Legend has it that as a boy he was sent out to tend to the sheep, and that one day he spent the long hours in the countryside engraving a sheep on a rock with a sharp stone. The famous artist Cimabue was passing through the Mugello valley and happened to see that drawing. He was intrigued by the young boy’s artistic ability and stopped to talk to the lad. Giotto offered the stranger a taste of his snack: he was eating a bowl of ricotta cheese and honey. It is said that after having eaten with Giotto, Cimabue offered him a place in his bottega as an apprentice painter. Giotto, with his father’s permission, followed the famous painter to Florence.

If you happen to pass through Vicchio today you can still see the bridge in Vespignano where the encounter took place and visit the home in which Giotto was born.
In Mugello, ricotta cheese is still exactly the same as it was in the 13th century: an important product present in everyday meals. It is, in fact, one of the principal ingredients, cooked or not, in many sweet and salty foods. There are many examples of these dishes, for example ricotta cheese cake or tortelli with ricotta cheese and spinach. Ricotta cheeses, however, can also be eaten with just a pinch of salt, or as a dessert with a bit of jam, or, more traditionally, with acacia honey. Another particularly traditional way to eat ricotta is with “pattona”, a chestnut flour paste.

Where and how it is produced

Cow’s or sheep’s ricotta cheese is produced throughout the Mugello territory.
After extracting cheese from milk a huge quantity of whey, which is rich in protein and lactalbumine, and poor in fat, remains.  It is filtered to remove leftover curds and then heated to a temperature of 80°C either over an open flame in copper pots with tin plating, or in stainless steel double bottomed pressure cookers. During the heating process, the whey is stirred gently so that as the temperature rises it starts to coagulate and pieces of ricotta are formed. Once the stirring stops, the pieces of ricotta cheese come to the surface. The ricotta is skimmed with a skimmer and placed in woven baskets for straining, and the removal of the remaining whey. It is then placed in a cold room until it reaches 4°C. A bit of milk or cream can be added to the mix to make the ricotta cheese creamier.

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