California might be land of the "happy cow," but Sicily is the land of the ecstatic ewe. I don't know what they are feeding the sheep here, but the sheep's milk ricotta is the best I've tasted anywhere. Still cannoli are what they do best with this dense and creamy cheese that is slightly sweet on its own.
When I was younger I would ask my grandmother to make cannoli and she refused saying the ricotta didn't taste right in the U.S. My mom repeated this statement and never made them. I knew no other ricotta and would buy cannoli at the Italian deli where we went for salumi and other imported treats. They were good. Sometimes the crust was a little soggy (because they filled them in the morning and let them sit during the day), but I knew no other cannoli.
When I was a teenager, I made some for Christmas. I had my aunt buy some local artisan ricotta (my mom refused to have anything to do with the U.S. ricotta), and I added chocolate and sweetened the ricotta with powdered sugar to my liking. We ate them right after filling them so the crust stayed crunchy. I thought they were the best ever. Ha, what a fool I was! I was eating imposters, poor imitations of the Cannoli Siciliani, filled with Sicilian "ricotta di pecora" (sheep's milk ricotta). The imposters are like frozen pizza and a Cannolo from Sicily is like a pizza from Naples.
A Cannolo Siciliano (cannolo is the singular to the plural cannoli) is a MUST when visiting Sicily. Then, and only then, could I understand why my grandmother (and mother) would have nothing to do with any other ricotta. Make sure they are "ripieni al momemto" (filled at the moment--to order). This is important so the crust stays crunchy, and you know they are fresh.
I also sampled a few of the morning pastries and other desserts that they fill with ricotta, like the small round puffs--the dough is similar to eclair pate a choux-- called bignole or beignet. In Sicily, they fill some of these with sweetened ricotta.
And, I was able to find a savory dish---crostini with ricotta and honey. Now I just have to find a way to import the ricotta into the U.S. I fought with my friend over the last crostini, as they gave us an uneven amount.
If anyone knows of a place that imports Sicilian ricotta di pecora or a cheesemaker that gets close to making cheese like this, please let me know. I would be happy to make you some Cannoli Siciliani!