Homemade Ricotta Cheese is easy enough to make in your own kitchen! It’s tangy, salty, creamy and sweet. What more could you want? Claim that authentic Italian flavor with just a few ingredients in less than 40 minutes, that makes your recipe!
When it comes to making cheese, all you really hear about is the aging process and the exact science of it.
Well, rest assured that this ricotta cheese recipe is incredibly easy and takes just over 30 minutes!
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
It’s really all about keeping an eye on the milk and making sure it doesn’t burn – overheating will ruin the batch in a heartbeat.
But other than that, you can make small changes to the milk, add-ins, and drainage time and still end up with a perfectly executed ricotta cheese recipe!
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Whole Milk – Don’t use ultra-pasteurized, please! It just won’t work. Any milk you can find at the grocery store is absolutely fine to use otherwise.
- Heavy Cream – Cream is optional, but I like to recommend it for extra creaminess – and who doesn’t want that??
You can leave it out of the recipe with no changes to the instructions.
- Flaky Sea Salt – Kosher salt works well, too. Really any large-grained salt is perfect for making homemade ricotta cheese!
- Lemon Juice – Eureka or Lisbon lemons are my two top choices. They aren’t too sweet, like Meyer lemons, and are easy to find.
The exact amount of lemon juice you’ll need is never quite the same – you may need to stir in an additional 2 or 3 tablespoons if the milk doesn’t separate right away, so squeeze out a little extra!
Vinegar is a suitable substitute, but makes a difference in the flavor – it’ll taste like vinegar, not lemon.
How to Make Ricotta Cheese
The first step to making your own ricotta is to prepare the milk and cream.
The amount of salt that you use is really up to you, but I recommend going with ½ teaspoon the first time you try it – you can always season later!
Add the milk to a Dutch oven and cook on medium heat. Stir continuously until the temperature falls somewhere between 185°F and 195°F.
Don’t allow the mixture to overheat – the milk will become foamy, but should never hit a rolling boil.
Once warm enough, stir in the lemon juice. It’ll curdle right away. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes as the curds separate from the liquid.
Then, it just needs to drain! Transfer the curds to your prepared sieve and let it drain for at least a few minutes and up to 45 minutes.
The longer it drains, the thicker it will be!
Storing and Cooking With Fresh Ricotta
Homemade ricotta cheese lasts for up to 4 days in the fridge. Do not freeze – it has too much moisture and its texture will change dramatically if frozen.
You can also use your ricotta right away! Keep in mind that ricotta isn’t the same as most cheeses.
It does not melt, but rather bakes and turns even creamier with a quick roasting.
It can sometimes be hard to tell when a fresh, creamy cheese has gone bad. Some tell-tale signs are a yellow or orangeish color and a sour smell or taste.
Kitchen Tools You Will Need
- Use a sieve or strainer and several layers of cheesecloth to drain your homemade ricotta.
- Slotted Spoon – For transferring all of the cheese curds once they’re finished cooking.
- Candy Thermometer – Make sure all of your hard work doesn’t go to waste! Keep an eye on the temperature so that the cream doesn’t burn.
Ways to Use Homemade Ricotta Cheese
You can use fresh ricotta in the simplest ways – a sprinkling on top of pizza just before baking or on a fresh salad are two of my favorites.
This easy ricotta recipe is absolutely heavenly in savory pasta dishes!
Stuffed shells, tortellini (which is different!), ravioli (which is also different), and lasagna are the first recipes that come to mind, but I can’t really think of a pasta that isn’t made better with some creamy ricotta.
Then, there’s the sweetest way you can use fresh ricotta – cannolis! In fact, we make just enough ricotta here to follow along with my traditional cannoli filling recipe.
But honestly? Scoop it onto a plate, add some fresh thyme and a drizzle of olive oil, and serve with blackberries and crackers. Fresh and delicious!
Substitutes for Fresh Ricotta
Your closest match, regardless of the circumstances, is cottage cheese. It’s mild, moist, and very fresh in flavor!
Mascarpone can work as well, depending on what exactly you’re using it for – it’s fattier and creamier, and will make any dish heavier than ricotta would.
Cheeses such as goat cheese, feta, and cream cheese should only be used as a substitute when you’re going for thickness, tanginess, and creaminess.
These are also your go-tos when working with meats!
Alternatively, sour cream, buttermilk, and Greek yogurt are best when you’re trying to replace ricotta in cookies, cakes, and icings!
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours.
Recipes With Ricotta Cheese
- 1/2 gallon whole milk, NOT ultra-pasturized
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2-1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Pour milk and cream into a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven. Add salt to the milk mixture.
- Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan.
- Heat until the temperature of the milk registers between 185°F and 195°F. At this temperature, the milk will be slightly foamy on the top, but not boiling.
- Add lemon juice to the milk mixture and stir. You should see the milk curdling almost immediately. Turn off the heat when the mixture starts to separate and leave it to sit for about 10-15 minutes.
- Line a strainer or sieve with several layers of cheesecloth for draining the ricotta.
- Use a slotted spoon to lift the cheese curds from the whey and transfer to the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Allow the ricotta to drain for as long as you wish – the longer it drains, the thicker it will be. You can drain it for just a few minutes for a creamy ricotta or up to 45 minutes for a thicker ricotta.
- Transfer ricotta to an airtight container and refrigerate or serve immediately.
- Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.
Originally published October 2022
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