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Ricotta Salata

deborah baic The Globe and Mail

Originating from Italy, and created to utilize leftover whey from cheese-making, the name ricotta comes from the Latin "recocta" or "recooked." The whey is reheated after cheese-making until it separates into tiny, individual protein particles. Once drained, these particles become the milky, soft, spreadable cheese we layer into into lasagna or adore in cannoli.

But ricotta also has an older, more savoury sibling hailing from Sicily and known as ricotta salata, meaning salty. This cheese (produced in other regions as well) is made from sheep's milk and once drained, it is pressed, salted and aged three months until it becomes a more firm, sliceable product. It resembles feta in consistency and function but with a springier, drier texture and a milder flavour. It has a tangy, slightly nutty quality.

Afrim Pristine of Toronto's Cheese Boutique has taken the Sardinian version of ricotta salata and given it a Canadian twist. While in Strathmore, Alta., visiting relatives who have a 10,000 acre wheat farm, he worked alongside his wife's cousin, owner Doug Keer. He returned to Ontario with a kilo of top-grade wheat seed and started growing it in an old bathtub (which used to be his mother's flower garden) on the roof of the store.

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He harvested in early August and hadn't decided what to do with his wheat until he had a sip of a Kronenberg Blanc wheat beer. The flavours and aromas inspired an idea – he would marinate the cheese in the beer and then cover it with his fresh, Canadian wheat. The experiment was a success. Pristine calls the cheese, "fruity, floral and lemony with a fresh, herbal taste on the palate." Paying tribute to the farm where the wheat originated, Pristine named his creation the Keer Royale. It is available starting Wednesday at Cheese Boutique.

Whether you dig into the Keer Royale or just stick with traditional ricotta salata you'll find it's a great multitasker in the kitchen. Slice it into salads (great in bean salads), scrambled eggs or pasta. Its firm texture works with roasted vegetables or served with brunch-friendly fruits such as oranges or melon. For holiday appetizers, serve it with flatbread and preserved fruit.

Just tell the regular ricotta in your fridge that your heart is big enough for both of them.

Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.

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