Sicilians are very enthusiastic about their local cow and sheep’s milk cheeses. Goat’s milk is generally drunk rather than made into cheese, and as always there are exceptions.
Each Sicilian region is proud of their local product and many of the cheeses are named after the region, for example: Madonie provola, from the Madonie Mountains (north west Sicily), Nebrodi Provola, from the Nebrodi Mountains (north eastern Sicily) and Ragusano is the caciocavallo cheese from Ragusa. Sadly, very few of the local Sicilian cheese varieties are unknown outside Sicily and never make it into Australia.
Many of the Sicilian cheeses are pecorino or provola type cheeses.
These cheeses are eaten at varying stages of maturity – dolce (sweet) when it is fresh and piccante (spicy) when mature. Some cheese is eaten very fresh and unsalted. Once the cheese is salted it is eaten progressively until the cheese crust has formed and the cheese is considered ripe (which could be as short as five months).
The most commonly recognised Sicilian cheeses made in Australia are tuma and primo sale, pecorino and provola. Ricotta, is not technically a cheese but it is eaten and used as such.
I have been fortunate to have lived in both Adelaide and Melbourne where I am able to purchase freshly made cheeses and the latest business enterprise in Melbourne is La Latteria in Carlton.
This cheese making and selling endeavour of two innovative people: Linguanti from That’s Amore Cheese (he is experienced) and Laird from a South Melbourne Restaurant (where she was head chef). The combination of skills seems a good one; I would imagine that Italians would still buy the traditional cheeses and the adventurous buyers may venture to purchase the cheeses that have been formed into less traditional shapes and that have herbs or salame added.
Liguanti and Laird are both passionate about their work and the fresh stretched cheeses (e.g. fior di latte, bocconcini, burrata) are made daily in small batches. And this is exactly how Italians like to eat them, made daily and if possible, warm, just like their bread (it is very common to buy warm, freshly made bread twice a day).
Latterie are found all over Italy- this is where one buys milk products and this includes fresh cheeses, so the business is appropriately named. They sell fresh yoghurt, un-homogenised milk, cow and buffalo milk cheeses. Not all the cheeses have to be made fresh on the day and there are some in the selection for example the smoked scamorza, which is slightly aged. The cheeses they make are found in various regions of Italy, for example the burrata is popular in Pugia, provola in the south of Italy from Campania to Sicilia, and crescenza is like stracchino is made in Lombardia and Piemonte.
La Latteria also make ricotta salata, very much longed-for by Sicilians not living in Sicily. It is mainly used as a grating cheese, but Sicilians find any excuse to-get-stuck-into-it and at any time. As you can see by the photo, La Latteria’s ricotta salata is made into small shapes and sold dried ready for grating. What I used to purchase in Adelaide from La Casa del Formaggio was sold in much larger shapes and left to the buyer to dry it out; the problem with this was that it was eaten before it was dry enough to be grated. A real treat.
Other recipes/ other posts:
This has a recipe Formaggio all’Argentiera (Pan fried cheese)
VARIATIONS for Baked Ricotta recipe:
In a restaurant in Syracuse I ate baked ricotta presented warm and sprinkled with a coating of toasted pistachio nuts. If you would like to make this version just rub the ricotta with olive oil and a little salt. Add the nuts in the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Instead of salt I have also dribble honey over ricotta, bake it and present it with poached fruit as a dessert. I have never eaten this in Sicily, but we all experiment with ingredients and it is winter after all.
Apologies to my overseas readers, I do not know where you can buy freshly made Italian cheeses.
I love baked ricotta, but not the bastardized versions blended with eggs and herbs I have seen for sale. I do not know where these originated – not in Italy and definitely not Sicily!
ricotta, fresh and a solid piece
Cover with foil and bake in a 180 C for 15 minutes . Remove the foil and bake uncovered until the it has just begun to turn golden brown – it may take about 40 minutes or more, depending on the size.
Cover with foil – this dish will keep well in the fridge for 3 days. A perfect dish to prepare well ahead of time.
It can also double up as a dessert if dribbled with honey.