November 20, 2009

Ricotta Farm

Well, my little ones. You would not guess what I did today. You all would have had such a blast! We better start filling that vacation jar a little faster so you can come check it all out!

Today we joined a tour to take a bus trip to Ramacca to tour a family owned ricotta cheese farm and watch how they process sheep's milk into ricotta cheese.

Our host speaks only Italian. Andrea, a Sicilian employed by the American Navy, translated for us.
Maintaining the correct temperature and stirring are two key elements in successful cheese making. The name ricotta actually means twice cooked. Bet you didn't know that!

Enzymes which are taken from the lining of the sheep's stomach are added to the heated milk to start the process. Sheep have two stomachs when they are young. One that digests grass and one that digests milk. When they mature the second stomach disappears. This is the one that the enzymes are taken from.

Then it had to cook for thirty minutes. No time is wasted on the farm, though. We moved on to learn about their sheep and watch the second milking of the day.

What is different with this sheep compared to the sheep at home? Notice their tails? They don't remove them here. That process has to do with the quality of their wool. These sheep are raised organically and for the express purpose of milking for ricotta. There is no concern for the quality of their wool. The organic stamp is very protected in Sicily. In order to maintain that name, g.o.p. the sheep must be tested every two weeks by two separate universities as well as their finished product and the grass that they feed on.

They let us milk the sheep. Although, I don't think we were actually much help. They usually milk by hand, but in a very busy time they do have milking machines to use.

There was a minute to show Gabriel the horses. Don't be fooled by the fact that he is asleep. He really liked them.

Now we move back to the cheese room.

After it reaches a certain temperature, which I can not remember, this soft cheese. It is like yogurt but really tasteless.
We all got a taste test. The texture takes a little getting used to.

Waiting for it to come up to 80 celcius
When it is ready more water is added. You wouldn't think it would make a difference but it causes an entirely new texture to form in the pot.
This process actually produces three kinds of cheese. First, a soft yogurt like cheese. Then this firmer, spongy cheese called tuma. And lastly will be the ricotta. After the second process a curd forms in the bottom of the pot. The resulting curd is scooped up and packed into the form.

You will notice the form and the stirrers are made out of specially raised bamboo. This is required to maintain their g.o.p. standard... which is equivalent to the top organic rating back in the states. Natural and organic food is very important to the Sicilians.
They let us try it, too. It felt like a delightful warm milk bath.

It was packed in layers with fennel and pepper between.

And then left in the mold to drain and become more solid.

The finished tuma. See how it is stored in brine?

Just because they looked cute. Don't you think?

After taking out the tuma cheese, the milk needed to cook for an hour, Andrea, took us for a tour of the farm. He spent some time talking about the prickly pear. Which, I know I have mentioned to you before. Here are some more detailed pictures for you to get a better idea of what they look like. See the hedge made out of it?

And the big leaves.

And the fruit.

Cutting the flesh out of the leaves and placing it on a cut or burn and then wrapping it, is a common treatment for minor wounds in this region.

I thought there might be some little boys who would like to see this tractor. I know, it is not green.

I just liked this little floating building in the duck pond.
After a talk on Prickly Pear and Olives, there were horses to ride for those who cared to do so. Interesting little tidbit from our guide, Andrea. The owner of this farm says she makes her pickling brine for her olives by filling her container with water and dropping in a raw egg. She then adds salt until the egg floats to the top. That means she has the perfect water/salt proportion.

Windmills. Can you see the sheep grazing to the left?

While waiting for the waiting period to pass, we had time to sit and enjoy this beautiful courtyard.

And I found a use for Allen's old shoes.

See how the cheese has come to the top and looks like curdled milk?

After the cheese has come up, or floated as they say, they say a blessing over it as thanks for a successful process. This family does two batches, from sheep to container, of ricotta every day. The first is done by 7 am and the second is made in the afternoon.

I don't know that you can tell. But the containers the cheese is stored in are like little colanders. This allows the cheese to continue to drain and become thicker as well as permitting the cheese to breath and stay fresher longer.


After our work was done we had a plentiful and leisurely lunch in this beautiful building that appears to have once been a barn.

Is this what you expected after seeing the outside?

It was built in the 1600's! This family has owned the 180 acre farm for 7 generations.

Look at the beautiful ceiling.

This fireplace caught my fancy as well.

And you know these people.

I thought these plates were so sweet. I had to share them with you.

And a bowl of fresh ricotta with sugar sprinkled over the top.

My only regret? That I couldn't bring some home to make up a batch of Cavatille.

Love to you my sweet ones,




  1. What great experiences you are having, Kat. I think it's wonderful that your sister is taking Gabriel everywhere as a first time mommy and enjoying spending every moment with you.

    I like ricotta, but I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it straight out of the pot like that. I think seeing it made would be really interesting. Hope all of your kittens and the cat herder are well. They are probably dying to hug you and have you back all to themselves.

    You look really great in all of the photos.

    Ciao Bella until next time...

  2. Mama,
    Nana says: which two are we supposed to recognize in the picture- you and Gabe, right?

    Emma says: Mama has to bring home 25lbs. of ricotta dressed as a baby, like Lucy

    KK says: just don't get someone else to help you eat it on the plane- we want some, too!

    Than says: the house floating on the water for the ducks is neat

    Ellie says: "have fun"- it's her new phrase;)
    the girl peppers (and than)

  3. Oh wow, you are having such a fun time and such neat experiences! I'm so happy for you! the pictures are all so great, thanks for sharing something that I woulnd't otherwise see. Have more fun!

  4. Kat,

    Now how many people do you know can say they have watch how ricotta cheese is made from start to finish and then to eat the finished product? What a great and valuable opportunity to witness this first hand.

    Love the renovated barn, and never would think it would look that way on the inside comparing the looks on the outside.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  5. I love ricotta... I think I should have been born into an Italian family! ;)