Ricotta Cheesecake

This is (shockingly) my first attempt at making a 100% ricotta cheesecake, and I’m excited about the results. The texture is different than my traditional cream-cheese-based recipe, but there is a light fluffiness that pairs beautifully with fresh fruit. Another bonus: no need to make a crust as a quick sugar coating of the pan adds sweet crunch to the sides of the cake. So what possessed me to abandon my trusty cream cheese after all these years and try a ricotta cheesecake? It all starts with a childhood dream and some Sardinian cows…

It’s not often that we get to fulfill childhood dreams as an adult, but I had that rare opportunity last week in Sardegna. I must have watched one too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie, because when I was a girl I become obsessed with the idea of milking a cow with my own hands and tasting the fresh milk. I grew up in Texas, surrounded by cows, yet it was a seemingly impossible task. The cows on our ranch had other destinies, and were not domestic enough to milk, so I begged my mother to find a local dairy for me to tour. This too, proved a difficult mission, as the few dairies in our area didn’t allow guests. I eventually gave up on the idea, but I never fully forgot about it.

So you can imagine my delight when Arborea, a historical milk cooperative from Sardinia, invited me to spend a few days on the mediterranean island to meet their cows and tour their facilities. I immediately hopped on a plane with my overalls, swimsuit, and hidden cow-milking agenda in tow.

Arborea is also the name of the town where the milk cooperative was born 60 years ago, and is a fascinating, somewhat forgotten corner of Sardinia that was once a swamp. In fact, the malaria-ridden marshland was filled and the entire town was built on top of it as part of a nation-wide “land reclamation” project during the fascist era.

The dairy we visited, as I expected, was a very modern facility with state-of-the-art milking machines, but I didn’t let that stop me. I timidly, childishly, asked the farmer if I might try milking a cow myself, and after he finished laughing at me he provided me with a pair of gloves and some overflowing udders to squeeze. It’s not as easy as they make it look in Little House on the Prairie, but I’m sure I could become a professional milker with some practice. I was fully satisfied by the experience, and even more so by the cup of fresh, steaming milk that I was rewarded with: creamy, rich and milked with my own hands!

Fun cow facts: Cows are hot! Their body temperatures run around 101.5°F (38.6°C), and a dairy cow can produce 60 liters of milk in one day! I was impressed.

My adventure didn’t end there. I was also treated to a tour of the entire milk processing factory, where milk is quality-controlled, pasteurized, and transformed into the many delicious products I couldn’t live without (butter, cream, cheese, chocolate milk, etc). I also got a chance to sample a large selection of their products and fell especially in love with their soft and flavorful cheese Dolcesardo and their smooth, fresh ricotta, which inspired this recipe.

It is so important to know what goes into the products we buy at the grocery store, and I encourage everyone to take a peak behind the scenes in the food production world if they get the chance, especially where animals are involved. At Arborea, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw, and I will feel good about buying their products in the future… I may even be able close my eyes and imagine that I milked the cow myself.

Ricotta Cheesecake

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for pan
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 lbs (680 g) fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • fresh fruit, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan, then add a big spoonful of sugar to the pan, tap around until there’s an even coat and toss the excess.

Blend the ricotta in a food processor or blender until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and add the egg yolks, flour, half of the sugar, the zest and salt. Mix well and set aside.

Whisk egg whites with a mixer until foamy and gradually add the remaining sugar, beating until stiff (about 3-4 minutes). Gently fold about about one third of the egg whites into the ricotta mixture using a rubber spatula until just combined. Delicately fold in the remaining whites, being careful not to deflate them.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven until center is firm and top is golden brown (about 1 hour). Let cool for 10 minutes before running a sharp knife around the edge of the cake to detach it from the pan. Release sides of springform pan and let cool completely before serving.

Serve chilled or at room temperature, accompanied by fresh fruit or a compote.

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