MAY 6, 2010 // FIND. EAT. DRINK

Salvatore Bklyn – Ricotta Cheese

ARTISANAL RICOTTA MAKERS BETSY DEVINE AND RACHEL MARK

Back in the old days, ten years ago, people followed bands, knew the key players involved, bought their albums. Today, artisanal food producers are the new rock stars and getting to watch them in action is the new backstage.

Salvatore Bklyn even markets their handmade ricotta as if they were playing live gigs around town to standing room only crowds. They aren’t far from the truth, as part of the Brooklyn artisanal scene, they have made quite an impact. Their ricotta is being used locally by Liddabit Sweets in their ricotta-orange-honey caramels, by world-class restaurants like Per Se, and the every chef’s favorite Italian/pizza place, Franny’s.

What makes a ricotta stand out?
I think a simple product like ricotta has the opportunity to stand out when it’s made with care, from good ingredients, and remains as consistent as possible. There is not too much room to hide when your ingredient list is just a couple of things.

A very famous old-school Italian shop in the West Village once recommended Polly-O’s for lasagna instead of fresh ricotta…do you think they were saving us money or do you think there is a reason fresh ricotta would not stand up well in baking a pasta dish?
I think a little of both. The way Polly-O acts is so different than a fresh ricotta. It’s like having a pizza with low moisture mozzarella more common at your corner pizzeria, or having a wood-oven roasted pie with fresh Fior Di Latte mozzarella at Franny’s. The cheese responds differently to heat, therefore creates its own particular texture and melty-ness. Neither is particularly superior, just different. I think fresh ricotta in any dish is great though, and to be tried!

What kind of milk do you use in your ricotta and where do you get if from?
We use cow’s milk (Holsteins) from Hudson Valley fresh. They are a co-op of 8 family run farms based in upstate New York. An amazing company, with a consistent amazing dairy product. I owe much of the distinct milky sweetness of our ricotta to these guys.

How do you smoke the smoked version of your ricotta? And what’s your favorite serving approach for the smoked ricotta?
I use a small smoker. First I make the cheese, and drain it for 12 hours. This is the base for our regular ricotta. To smoke it, I make a fire with some cherry wood, get it smoldering and put it in the box. I cover the whole thing, cheese and all, for 20 minutes. I love to serve it as a pressed sandwich with fennel-y sopressata. It lends itself really well to pork products. I also enjoy it on pizza, and the most crazy was trying a chef’s experiment: smoked ricotta gelato. It was good!

What are some creative ways to serve ricotta?
I love that people take the simple cheese and run with it. I always like to see what cooks, home or professional, come up with. I personally like to keep it simple: grilled bread, olive oil, salt, pepper, and ricotta. I also use it as a base for cake icing: ricotta, sugar, whatever flavor is called for, and a little cream. Whip that up and it’s pretty good.

What restaurants currently serve your ricotta?
We have about 40 restaurants in Brooklyn and NYC right now… they range from restaurants with a capital R to small neighborhood spots. I love that.

How does being in Brooklyn inspire your creativity?
This has been such a cool spot to start a company. We are literally surrounded by people who are in the same boat as us: small, trying to grow, having trouble with how to track invoices, arranging deliveries, figuring out logos, finding good purveyors… all the stuff that running a small business is about. It is a huge community that we tap into everyday for help and guidance. There is something about Brooklyn that lends itself to the ethos (yes, I used that word) behind what we do. Maybe it’s the (somewhat) cheaper rents? That’s my theory. It allows a small amount of breathing room, and that’s where creativity flourishes.

Can we get you to share a recipe?
I like to outsource the recipe ideas! Maybe there is someone out there that has a killer idea.

Any exciting projects in your future?
We just signed the lease on a new production space in Clinton Hill, with Early Bird Granola. So excited. We will have more room to grow. The next big idea is to start producing mozzarella.

What purveyors do you love, which products and why?
Hudson Valley Fresh. Amazing milk. They are distributed by McMahons Farm, who do a great job bringing upstate products to the city. Anne Saxelby at Saxelby Cheesemongers as well. She is single-handedly bringing American farmstead cheese to the people.

Who else in your field is doing interesting things that you think should deserve more praise and why?
Dicksons Farmstand Meats in the Chelsea Market. They are hardcore in supporting the sustainability of meat production in this country.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?
Rachel: Marcela Hazan, I swear by it!
Betsy: The French Laundry changed my world back in the day, and still does. I’m still waiting for the Franny’s cookbook.

Are there cheeses that you think are outstanding?
Oh lord, I don’t know where to start….

Restaurants:
Off the beaten track places to eat, that you’d be excited to take an adventurous eater?
Bahari – Greek, and in Astoria. Rachel was blown away, I unfortunately missed this visit due to an extreme hangover.

Has killer food, but won’t break the bank?
Cafe Katja in LES. So good, so nice, not going to kill your wallet. Love it.

Restaurants serving great artisanal foods?
Franny’s.

Restaurants with stand-out cheese programs?
Gramercy Tavern for American.
Lupa for Italian.
Casellula for whatever floats your boat that night.

Italy:
Places you could recommend in Italy to eat?
Antica Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples.
Gustavo in San Gimignano.

Must eats for visitors to Italy?
Anything you can get your hands on, especially cheeses. Raw milk. ‘nuf said.

As seen on Find. Eat. Drink.