Ari's Picks

Bellwether Farms Jersey Cow’s Milk Ricotta at the Creamery

A wealth of wonderful creamy cheese to enrich your table

I’ve been eating and loving the ricotta from the Callahan family’s Bellwether Farms for probably fifteen years now. For most of that time, I could only get it when I was out in the Bay Area. Happily, a few years ago we started to have access to it at the Cream Top Shop. Now, we’re barely ever without it at our house.

overhead view of ricotta on a blue plate

Although I’d read about ricotta many times, I really understood it for the first time thirty years ago last month. Here’s what I wrote a few years later:

I can almost tell you to the day when it was that I had this ricotta revelation. It was the first week of November 1992, right before Bill Clinton defeated George Bush I for president. I was down in Rome to visit the people who make our Pecorino Romano. As we toured the Pecorino production, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a couple of workers stirring a large, steel, steam-shrouded kettle off to one side of the room. A few minutes later they start to slowly scoop out small mounds of soft white cheese from the kettles. These in turn are set softly into a series of small baskets—some white plastic, some natural wicker—sitting alongside each vat.

“What are they doing over there?” I asked my host, not wanting to seem as if I hadn’t been listening to his presentation. “Oh that? That’s ricotta,” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Of course. That’s ricotta. I’d read about it two thousand times but seeing it in person it finally started to hit home what ricotta was really all about.

Longtime specialty food guru Darrell Corti from Sacramento told me years ago that “eating great fresh ricotta is like eating clouds.” Light, fluffy, creamy, and delicious, I often just eat a bit of the Bellwether ricotta by the spoonful. Terrific on toasted Bakehouse bread of any sort—and I love ricotta on rye. Or just eaten for breakfast, a small bit at a time with olive oil and/or honey and fresh fruit. It’s also great both on pasta, and in pasta (super great for stuffing ravioli or tortellini). Topped with a bit of honey (the Deli has some amazing ones—we have an incredible new orange blossom honey from the folks at Miele Thun) it’s a fabulous dessert! Michael Zyw, the artist-farmer who makes the equally delicious Poggio Lamentano olive oil from western Tuscany, told me that his father, the Polish-Jewish-British-Italian artist Alexander Zyw, used to mix ricotta with finely ground espresso (before it’s brewed, to be clear) and honey and eat it for dessert. Delicious!

It’s no accident that the Bellwether ricotta is so special. Everything about it is done with care and a huge commitment to quality. Liam Callahan says:

When ricotta is made in the traditional way it is one of the most delicious dairy products you could have. We buy all of the milk from our neighbor just down the road from us. They milk all Jerseys and feed mostly grass/silage grown on the farm. This ricotta gets its flavor and necessary acidity from being cultured rather than adding acid (vinegar, citric acid, etc.) I think this lets us have the best texture and by far the most flavor of any ricotta out there. Ricotta is a deceptively simple cheese. Each time I see the expression on a person’s face the first time they try it I am reminded how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do.

How to Enjoy Ricotta

The next time you’re entertaining, consider taking their suggestion to simply turn a basket of the Bellwether ricotta over onto a decorative platter, take off the plastic basket in which it’s packed, and then surround it with olives, roasted peppers, cured ham or salami, some toasted Bakehouse bread (True North would be terrific). I’d drizzle the ricotta with a great olive oil and a bunch of really great cracked black pepper. Or, sprinkle on a handful of the Marash red pepper from Turkey and pour over a good bit of that outstanding olive oil from the Moulins de Mahjoub and a wreath of fresh basil leaves. Or if you prefer sweet to savory, use some American Spoon Early Glow Strawberry preserves instead of the red pepper.

While you’re at the Cream Top shop scoring some ricotta, consider handmade Cream Cheese for your bagels at breakfast. We also have gelato for dessert (my top pick is the Sicilian pistachio), really cool custom-made Gelato Cakes, a range of other artisan cheeses, wine, beer, and a wealth of other good things to eat!

Right this way for ricotta!

P.S. The Bellwether Jersey Yogurt at the Cream Top Shop is equally amazing!

P.P.S. Check out this post about Blu, the amazing dog Tammie rescued earlier this year, that she just happened to post this week!  As you’ll see, he is gently and happily eating Bellwether Ricotta off her finger!

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