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Today I sauteed a quarter cup mushrooms in 3 tbsp butter and added 250ml cream. Everything was set for me to add the ricotta and finish the Alfredo, but it only partly melted. Beyond a certain point, there were some "cheese crumbs" that no amount of heat could dissolve, thus robbing me of a velvety textured Alfredo.

I have successfully made Alfredo with ricotta cheese before. Is there any reason as to why the ricotta did not completely melt? The ricotta package was only opened a few days, so it couldn't have gone bad.

  • Did you change brands? – Stephie Mar 27 '16 at 20:06
  • I did. Why? Its the same cheese in the end isnt it? – Bar Akiva Mar 27 '16 at 20:45
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    Speaking from experience with cream cheese: one brand (the one that comes to mind first) makes way better cheese cake or cream cheese frosting than some other (typically generic) brands which stay "grainier" (mouthfeel). At least in my country. Can't say for sure here, but it might be the same issue with your ricotta. – Stephie Mar 27 '16 at 20:49
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    Er... I think ricotta is not supposed to melt. In fact that's what makes tomato sauces with ricotta so refreshingly different from sauces where you add (and dissolve) cheese. – leftaroundabout Mar 27 '16 at 23:24
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    Traditional Alfredo sauce has neither ricotta nor cream; it consists only of butter and Parmesan. You should try it! saveur.com/article/Kitchen/The-Real-Alfredo – James McLeod Mar 28 '16 at 10:38
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Ricotta is not supposed to melt, or dissolve, or anything like that. It is made up of protein clumps. The only way it can appear very smooth is if the manufacturer created a cheese where the clumps have been made very tiny mechanically - because chemically, they are still clumps and stay that way after heating.

You said that you changed brands. There you have your explanation - your old brand must have been more finely "ground" than the new one, so you are noticing the clumps in the new one, while the ones in the old were too small to be noticed.

This effect works in parallel with the gums Batman mentioned.

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  • Isn't every cheese made out of proteins? – Bar Akiva Mar 28 '16 at 18:30
  • yes, and proteins never melt – rumtscho Apr 3 '16 at 21:38
  • Umm I was referring to the "protein clumps" part, not saying proteins never melt... I found it odd you would mention ricotta specifically is made of protein clumps when other cheeses also have protein, which got me thinking that maybe you were saying that the protein in ricotta is structured differently than other cheeses. – Bar Akiva Apr 3 '16 at 21:40
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    @BarAkiva: most cheeses consist predominantly of casein, which is indeed protein, but quite an uncharacteristic kind. It is readily extracted from the milk through enzymatic coagulation, but in this state the molecular structure is still mostly preserved; indeed casein is very stable, that's why you can melt most cheeses. OTOH, ricotta is a whey cheese. After the casein is extracted from the milk, there are still some proteins left in solution, and these can only be solidified by completely clumping the molecules to an unmeltable tangle, like most other denaturated proteins (e.g. egg white). – leftaroundabout Apr 3 '16 at 21:46
  • Wow that was amazingly descriptive! Thank you! – Bar Akiva Apr 3 '16 at 21:50
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Some ricotta uses gums and stabilizers (usually cheaper ricottas) whereas good ricottas are made with just milk and a bit of acid and a bit of salt. The stabilizers and gums allow the ricotta to hold water rather than proper draining done for better ricottas. The stabilized ricottas often leave a grainy texture after cooking (since the stabilizers don't hold up to heat).

Check the ingredients of your old brand versus a new brand. If your old one uses just milk, acid and salt versus your new one using gums and stabilizers, that could make the difference.

Aside: If you're short on good ricottas, cottage cheese (full fat) often is a good replacement depending on context.

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  • So lower quality ricottas dissolve better in Alfredo? – Bar Akiva Mar 28 '16 at 18:31
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    No, they turn out grainy because of the stabilizers generally (which are a way of cutting corners to increasing profit margins+ speed of manufacture). Try a high quality in ricotta in your recipe (such as whole milk Calabro in the US) and some low quality ricotta (such as Polly-O in the US) and see if there is a difference. – Batman Mar 28 '16 at 19:58

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