Ever the mild-mannered and neutral player, ricotta cheese this year emerged as a new darling for dips in local restaurants as flavorful variations made from alternatives to the usual cow's milk gave the bland standby some tangy new attitude.

At Marc Vetri's Amis, ricotta from fresh buffalo milk delivers the same ethereal high-note and lingering richness you'll find in bufala mozzarella, perfect alone on a plate with a grind of black of pepper or tucked into the stuffings of ravioli.

Slightly more common has been the appearance of an earthier, piquant ricotta made from sheep's milk. Barbuzzo pairs their rendition with the tangy dark sweetness of balsamic-like vincotto and figs.

At Stella, meanwhile, a hearty crock brings the cheese pretty much as is, gilded with a golden drizzle of fresh, nutty Frantoia olive oil, and a dusting of rosemary to perk it up with an herbaceous note that accents the cheese's earthy edge. With a side of warm flatbread to scoop it up, this extroverted new ricotta is so addictive, you'll be lucky if you have any room left for the pizza course.

- Craig LaBan

Sheep's milk ricotta appetizer, $10, Stella Pizzeria, 420 S. 2nd St., 215-320-8000.