Ricotta: Italian cheese with an Irish twist

Try these ricotta and blackberry tarts made with simple ready rolled puff pastry


Did you know that ricotta is made in Ireland? It is, from buffalo kept in east Cork. Of course, the buffalo weren't always there but we can thank Toonsbridge Dairy for their introduction into the Irish food landscape and the creation of a beautiful ricotta made on Irish soil by Italian hands.

Ricotta is an Italian cheese made from the whey left over from making other cheeses, such as mozzarella. For ricotta, the whey is heated again. This gives ricotta its name, which means "cooked again" in Italian.  Ricotta production dates back to the Bronze Age on the Italian peninsula. Due to its perishable nature, ricotta was originally consumed by only shepherds, though there is evidence from paintings that ricotta was eaten by Roman aristocrats in cities of the early Roman Republic.

Ricotta's grainy texture is not for everyone but it does have a beautiful taste and it works well in pasta bakes, pies, tarts, cheesecakes or just crumbled into salads. Tom Kerridge's wholemeal penne pasta bake with ricotta and tomato is a good one for the whole family on a mid week school evening in September. Alternatively try ricotta with some of Nigel Slater's pickled figs alongside some Irish charcuterie, such as McGeough's smoked lamb produced in Oughterard in Connemara.

How to make icotta and blackberry tarts

The blackberries are nearly in full bloom out west, no doubt due to the intense heat, where even a random bush has popped up in my garden. Blackberry bushes can get very wild very quickly, so if one does appear in your garden do take care to trim it back.

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For this recipe, I use ready rolled puff pastry which can be picked up in any supermarket. Cut the pastry into squares and score the edges. In a bowl, combine 50ml of apple syrup with 200g of blackberries. Spoon onto the centre of the pastry, ensuring you don’t cover the scored edge. Crumble ricotta on top of the blackberries. Brush the scored edges with egg yolk and bake at 180 degrees for 15 minutes until golden brown. While still hot, grate roasted hazelnuts over the tarts and garnish with some mint.