Throughout International Women’s Month, Chowhound is sharing stories from a wealth of women entrepreneurs, businesses, chefs, and cookbook writers who have all found success in the food space. Here, a look into Salvatore BKLYN, a small-batch ricotta cheese maker, helmed by cheesemonger Betsy Devine, stationed in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Betsy Devine has made ricotta cheese—and only ricotta cheese—for the last 12 years. The cheesemonger peddles the soft, spreadable cheese under the name Salvatore BKLYN, distributing it to a slew of restaurants and speciality grocery stores in New York City.
Betsy’s specialized focus on mastering one variety of cheese emerged serendipitously. Back in 2007, on a visit to Italy, she spent most of the trip consuming dollops of creamy ricotta cheese, but when she came back to the States, she couldn’t find anything similar that matched her Italian standards. So she set to work on creating her own version. At the time, she was working in a restaurant with an open kitchen and would ply diners at the bar with her ricotta, testing out creations on a crew of hungry guinea pigs.
“One thing led to another and I was selling to people on the side,” she said. “It just kind of struck me that I should try to do this on a larger scale.”
The ricotta connoisseur moved from a teeny production to a large-scale operation, packaging the two ricotta cheese products (smoked or plain) in small tubs and selling it to her chef friends. These days, Salvatore BKLYN can be purchased at a host of N.Y.C. retail stores, including Union Market, Wegmans, Marlow & Daughters, and Brooklyn Fare, and can be delivered to your door through FreshDirect. And a handful of beloved New York restaurants call upon Betsy for her ricotta cheese, like Daniel, Via Carota, and Charlie Bird, where they transform the silky cheese into the likes of smoked ricotta gelato or stuff gobs of it into fresh pasta.
Salvatore BKLYN Smoked Whole Milk Ricotta, $9.99 on FreshDirect
Sure, you could grab ricotta cheese from the supermarket—that plastic tub of comparatively bland cheese—but Betsy knows her product is superior. And that all comes down to fewer ingredients sourced from high quality farms, like Hudson Valley Fresh.
“Our ingredient list is short,” Betsy explains. “We’ve always been like, ‘It’s got to be the best,’ so we source the best milk and cream we can. That makes a substantial difference.”
The ricotta you buy from the tub? It’s packed with stabilizers—and a laundry list of other chemicals—which is why it can last in your fridge for a few months. Salvatore BKLYN doesn’t include any stabilizers: just milk, cream, salt, and cultures. And you can certainly taste the difference.
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Ricotta and Cottage Cheese?
“It gives it a denser mouth feel, salted to the right amount, and it’s fresh,” Betsy says. “Our product, hopefully, if we’re doing everything right—and we try to—is made, then delivered to wherever it has to go the next day. Hopefully that translates to anyone who’s eating it.”
Betsy works out of a shared kitchen in Red Hook, Brooklyn, flanked by a small team. To make the cheese, she simply heats milk and cream, acidifying it with lemon juice and cultures, then lets it hang overnight. The next morning, the ready ricotta is packed up and shipped out.
Although she had been rooted in her production of ricotta cheese for over a decade, Betsy has only recently added a new product to the Salvatore portfolio: cream cheese. She had long championed eschewing cream cheese for her ricotta—she maintains it’s just as thick and creamy as any cream cheese—but in a city as dominated by bagels and cream cheese as New York, swapping ricotta cheese for a classic schmear is a hard sell.
“We finally realized nothing’s a stand-in for cream cheese, especially in New York City,” Betsy said.
She gave in, crafting a cream cheese that, like her ricotta, lacks any additives or stabilizers. The result is a wonderfully fluffy, slightly tangy cream cheese that certainly rivals the stuff your local bagel joint defends. And like the ricotta cheese, the cream cheese can be used however you please.
“To me, the sky’s the limit,” Betsy says. “Our products are a blank slate, so I always let people do what they dream up.” Betsy, a self-proclaimed simple gal, is quite content with a hunk of bread slathered with a schmear of the stuff, or otherwise topped with a little olive oil, salt, or prosciutto. But there’s a myriad of uses: It can be folded into pancakes, swirled into pasta, tacked onto homemade pizza.
“As for the cream cheese,” Betsy says with a laugh, “hopefully we’ll get people to put it on their bagels.”
Related Video: The Food52 Founders Are Big Fans of Salvatore Bklyn Too
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