Ricotta is a whey cheese, meaning that it is produced from the by-product of traditional cheese manufacture made from whole milk – liquid whey. Once the curds are produced, the whey is drained off and this contains small amounts of cream, plus the whey protein not taken up in the curd. The whey is heated (Ricotta actually means "re-heated" in Italian) and produces a delicious fine curd.

Ricotta is a fresh cheese (as opposed to ripened or aged) and traditionally has a very short shelf life. However, modern methods of manufacture and packaging can give an extended shelf life so that it can be found in supermarkets throughout the UK. The resultant soft cheese has a grainy texture and a creamy white apperance; it is slightly sweet, gentle but subtle flavour and depending on whether or not cream has been added contains around 5% fat. It is widely used in Italian style cooking.

Some Ricotta is made in the UK at High Weald Dairy in Horsted Keynes in Sussex entirely from 100% sheep's milk and is regarded as one of the best Ricottas in the UK. Brue Valley Farms also makes fresh Ricotta from cows' milk whey available after the manufacture of West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.