The temperature at which to add the acidifying agent is a critical element of ricotta cheesemaking: if it is too low the curds don’t form; if it’s too high the maschèrpa tastes “cooked”. It’s important to add the acidifying agent in one quick and decisive motion, as this is the only way in which the curds form properly and float to the surface into a solid white layer.
Once the acidifying agent has been added and the curds have formed the top layer, the maschèrpa is taken out of the cauldron using a copper skimmer (càspsula). The compact curds are placed in wooden sievelike containers that are 40-60 cm tall and 25-30 cm wide. These containers are called garocc and are today often replaced by plastic ones. The remaining “second whey” left in the cauldron is called scòcia and is used to wash equipment before being fed to calves or pigs.
Methods of the past
In the past the acidifying agent used was a substance called agra. Agra is a very acid liquid made from scòcia (the “second whey” from the making of ricotta cheese). The scòcia was acidified by adding alum, gentian root, juniper, dried prunes, unripe fruit, vinegar and sorrel leaves. This mixture was left in the sun in a wooden bucket for days and was usually made from a scòcia from a successful ricotta cheese production, which had to be pale green and clear.
The wooden containers used to drain maschèrpa are called garocc (singular garot) and are a very characteristic element.
The maschèrpa that has been placed in the garocc and kept on a tilted work surface called spresùn, is left to drain for up to 24 hours and is then ready for consumption. The cheeses that are to be salted are drained for 3-4 days.
Salting occurs on both sides of the cheese. After a few days, when the cheeses are firmer, they are placed on scalere (shelves) in the ripening area of the dairy: the mascherpèra, found on the upper floor of the alpine cellar.
After a few weeks the maschèrpa becomes coated with a light brown mold (we say it “flowers”) that is regularly cleaned whenever the cheeses are turned. The maschèrpa loses a lot of weight during ripening, becomes firmer and develops a strong taste.
After a few months of ripening it can be grated on various dishes. Maschèrpa is not easy to keep, and mature maschèrpa is considered a valuable product because it requires much care, and because not all the cheeses are good enough for this process, and only the best are selected.