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The Best Ricotta Cheese Substitutes

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

For a die-hard lover of ricotta cheese, the perfect substitute for ricotta cheese doesn’t exist. Only because whatever you’re substituting it with isn’t called “ricotta cheese.”

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That is to say, you can get a ricotta cheese substitute that has a very similar taste and texture, yet a die-hard lover still wouldn’t think it’s a perfect substitute, even when they can’t taste the difference.

There are so many reasons why we want (or need) to substitute for ricotta cheese. The reason could be as simple as we don’t have any left… Yeah, that actually happens quite a lot, and just not with ricotta cheese.

The reason could be due to being lactose intolerant, where ingesting cheese just wouldn’t be helpful. Or, because you are now a vegan and you intend to stick strictly to the vegan diet, in which case any dairy product is a huge no-no. And of course, there’s always the reason of wanting to try something new—this is the category I fall under.

In choosing the right substitute for a recipe, the first thing is to know the reason why ricotta cheese is being used in the first place. Only then can you pick the right substitute, so…

How and When to Use Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta cheese is a common ingredient used in many dishes, especially in the famous lasagna! It is a white, creamy, and mildly-sweet Italian whey cheese that dates back all the way to the bronze age. There are several kinds of cheese available, with most being made from milk itself. However, a cheese like ricotta is made from whey.

The whey is made after the production of other cheeses. It is actually leftover from the cheese-making process, which usually uses sheep, cow, goat or Italian water buffalo milk as its source. Whey is typically free of casein, the main component of milk, which gets used up in the normal process of making cheese. It is not the only cheese made from whey—there are others. The coagulation of whey proteins such as albumin and globulin eventually leads to its making.

Ricotta is a rich, creamy, grainy, and mildly-sweet cheese that serves far more purposes than you can think of. It comes in handy when you’re baking, making dips, or mixing tomato sauce for pasta, amidst other things. The grains present in the cheese are fine grains, and as such, a ricotta cheese alternative should equally have fine grains.

The making of this whey cheese is deemed an environmentally friendly process because whey is harmful if it’s disposed of into sewers.

What are the uses of ricotta cheese? 

Baking uses: The Italian whey cheese is a good cheese option for baked goods like desserts and cookies. If you’re hoping to make a really tasty dessert, then you should look for some ricotta dessert recipes. Especially Italian desserts like cheesecakes and cannoli. It is also the main ingredient in the Italian Easter pie, Neapolitan pastiera.

While it serves as an important ingredient in making desserts, it could also be the only real ingredient. Yes, you can serve it a la carte as a dessert. All you have to do is beat the ricotta cheese until it is smooth, then mix the now-smooth cheese with sugar, strawberries, cinnamon, chocolate shavings, and orange flower water. After mixing it all up, it is then served as a dessert.

Note: This dessert can also be used as filling for the Sicilian cannoli, sometimes with the addition of pistachios and citrus.

Ricotta cheese is also useful in making savory dishes like stromboli, pizza, manicotti, calzone, pasta, ravioli and of course, lasagna. It is a good substitute for mayonnaise when making egg or tuna salad. It can be processed into a snack known as chhurpi. Chhurpi is also used to make Ema datshi, the Bhutanese national dish. Most persons use the cheese as a sauce thickener too, and in Indian desserts, it serves well as a substitute for paneer or chena.

Types of Ricotta Cheese

Depending on the method of production—that is, if the cheese is made to undergo aging or not—ricotta cheese can either be fresh and soft, or aged and semisoft. If it wasn’t aged, it is referred to as fresh, and if it was aged, the next question becomes how it was aged, and for how long: aging usually does not go beyond one year.

When translated to English, the term “ricotta” means “recooked,” and the name makes sense when you think about the fact that it’s made by “cooking” the leftovers from a cooking process. Cheese is usually made from the ripened curds of milk, which are separated from the whey.

But in making whey cheese, the whey proteins are made to undergo fermentation by keeping the whey at room temperature for about 12 to 24 hours. It is fermented so as to make it acidic. After that, it is heated to near-boiling. This process denatures the protein and leads to the precipitation of fine curds.

The fine curds are then separated from the liquid after cooling by passing the mixture through a fine-sieve cheesecloth, thus leaving the ricotta curds on the cloth. This is then packaged or made to undergo aging.

Whey cheeses like ricotta, though made from whey, have a little bit of milk added. Traditionally, in Italy, just milk was used, but these days, whole milk is used as well. The use of whole milk is more common in the USA and is usually referred to as ricottone. So technically, there are 2 types of ricotta cheese: fresh and aged!

How is aged ricotta made?

Aging can be done in a number of ways like salting, baking, smoking, and fermenting. These processes alter the taste and texture of the whey cheese, so extra care should be taken if you’re substituting aged ricotta. Another difference between fresh and the aged is that the fresh one has a shorter shelf life. If you want something that will last longer, aged ricotta is the best option.

The Best Ricotta Substitutes

Considering the fact that ricotta is cheese, you can be sure that there are plenty of alternatives for you to consider. Ricotta cheese replacement could be done with another suitable cheese similar to ricotta, cream, or something like tofu. Some of these alternatives have a milder flavor, just in case you consider the flavor and gritty texture of ricotta to be too overpowering in your dishes.

By the way, in America, ricotta is usually made of cow milk’s whey, but some people feel that goat milk ricotta has a subtler flavor and less gritty texture. So you could swap this in for a change as well.

Ricotta Cheese Substitute for Lasagna

Everyone loves lasagna and wants a bite of this dish whenever they can get it—I think Garfield and his love for lasagna are to blame for it. Not every ricotta cheese substitute will be a good fit when it comes to substituting for lasagna. Some substitutes work best for baking cakes and cookies, and others for spreads, dips, and sauce-making.

The best ricotta cheese substitutes for lasagna are cottage cheese, tofu (silken tofu), béchamel sauce, and créme fraiche. To substitute any of these into your lasagna recipe, use the same amount as that of ricotta cheese called for in the recipe. You could even pick a healthier alternative that’s low fat, like a small curd or cottage cheese variety.

Sour cream

Made from just two basic ingredients—cream and buttermilk. The process of souring involves the fermentation of lactic acid in regular cream by lactic acid bacteria. Sour cream has gone on to be a popular ingredient and also a great replacement for ricotta.

Can sour cream substitute ricotta cheese in sauces, and dips? Yes! Sour cream can also be a substitute for ricotta cheese in baking, where it serves as either a filling or as toppings in cake, cookie, and other baked goods recipes that call for ricotta. It has a milder flavor, and as such, you don’t have to worry so much about an overwhelming flavor.

Goat cheese

Want an alternative that has practically the same texture as ricotta? Then try goat cheese. The only real difference is that goat cheese is tangier than ricotta, but even at that, most people will not taste nor feel the difference. Only fresh goat cheese should be used as a replacement unless you want something firmer and with a much stronger flavor, in which case aged goat cheese will be perfect.

The fresh type is creamy, rich, and has a subtle, tarty flavor that leaves the same aftertaste as ricotta. Moreover, it is a good substitute for those whose digestive systems can’t deal so well with cow milk. It is advisable you use this replacement when you’re almost done in the kitchen, because it melts quicker than ricotta. It’s best used in recipes needing the Italian whey cheese as a dessert topping. Also, a 1:1 substitution works well enough.

Cottage cheese

An excellent low-fat option, perfect for your low-fat diet. This mild flavor cheese is low in fat and calories; hence, it is a healthy replacement. It originated in the homes of European cottagers which had excess milk leftover after making butter. The excess milk was then used to make this cheese.

Since it is produced from milk and not whey, it is usually sieved first before being used as a replacement in many recipes. It is sold in two forms: large curd form and small curd form.

The small curd form can be used as a substitute because it more closely resembles ricotta’s texture. It is less thick and also less creamy, yet it makes a good filling substitute, especially for lasagna. Another difference between the two kinds of cheese is that cottage cheese has a lumpy texture, instead of being fine-grain.

Fromage blanc

Also a healthy substitute since it is low in fat and calories as well. Fromage blanc is a French word that means white cheese, and this cheese can either be mildly sweet or mildly tangy. It is an expensive alternative that is also rare to find; it has the texture of yogurt and is somewhat buttery.

It can be whipped before use and it won’t turn a runny consistency when heated. The rich flavor of fromage blanc is especially delightful when it is used as a topping for desserts. It can also be used as a substitute for ricotta in recipes that require heating.

Tofu

Just like in the case of ricotta, we can all agree that tofu is highly versatile, so it should be no surprise that it’s on this list too. To get tofu, soy milk is coagulated and then the curds are shaped into blocks. Tofu is slightly different from silken tofu in the sense that silken tofu does not require curdling.

Silken tofu is a better choice for substituting ricotta cheese because its consistency is so similar to ricotta, not to mention it’s creamier than other tofu. However, both regular tofu and silken tofu can be used. For regular tofu, sieving it first and then subsequently blending it will yield a closer texture to ricotta.

Tofu as an alternative is perfect for vegans or those allergic to dairy products. For recipes that require ricotta alongside herbs and/or spices, tofu works well as an alternative. Paired with lemon juice, olive oil, or nutmeg, tofu is incredibly flavorful. It can also be used to make lasagna and other savory dishes like ravioli, pasta, cannoli, manicotti, and pizza—it’s an overall good substitute for baking. Tofu is actually a healthy substitute too since it’s rich in proteins and is relatively lower in fat.

Clabber cream

While tofu makes for good use to fill in for pasta, clabber cream (or clotted cream) makes for an even better alternative for pasta fillings. Clabber cream is also perfect as a topping on scones. This cream is made from unpasteurized or pasteurized milk which is allowed to go sour. Clabber cream is a rich, thick, and mildly-sour cream product. It is yellow in appearance and has a similar texture to ricotta.

Buttermilk cheese

This cheese is almost impossible to get at convenience stores, so that means you’ll have to make it at home if you’re considering using it as a substitute. All you have to do is sieve your regular buttermilk through layers of cheesecloth and keep it overnight in the refrigerator until it has a cheese-like texture.

This has a creamy and slightly acidic flavor. Buttermilk cheese is a suitable replacement for ricotta as a pasta filling, and it is also used as a spread or for making cheesecakes.

Paneer

Just as ricotta can be substituted for paneer, so also can paneer be substituted for ricotta. The Indian cheese, paneer, is usually made from either buffalo or cow milk. It has a mild taste and can withstand melting.

Pot cheese

This cheese might not be easily gotten from convenient stores, however, it is quite easy to make. The cheese serves as a substitute for ricotta because it’s soft, rich in proteins, and low in fat, and it also has a subtle flavor. It is a less moist cheese and thus has a drier texture. To effectively feel the richness of this cheese, use it with herbs and spices.

Bechamel sauce

This French sauce—though completely different from ricotta—will leave you with the same feeling in your mouth as ricotta. It is one of the tastiest substitutes on this list, and unlike ricotta, this cheese doesn’t burn quickly. It is a good filling substitute for lasagna and other ricotta recipes.

Other tasty and equally good ricotta cheese alternatives include the famous American cream cheese, which is suitable for baking and as a filling substitute. There’s the mild-tasting milky, and salty-flavored Mexican cheese, queso fresco, as well as Requeson, another Mexican cheese which is so similar to ricotta that it’s referred to by some as the Hispanic ricotta cheese. Both can serve for almost all of the uses of ricotta.

Lastly, we have créme fraiche (a French cheese) and mascarpone (an Italian cheese). Mascarpone is better suited for dishes that require a stronger flavor while créme fraiche works best as a classic substitute for lasagna.

Most times, it will be necessary to add herbs, spices, or even yogurt to these substitutes if you want your substitute to taste and feel exactly like the sweet, smooth and lightly gritty ricotta cheese.

Conclusion

 Do you need to add anything extra to your recipes?

Though most ricotta substitutes call for ingredients such as spices to be mixed in for a more enhanced flavor, you don’t have to do that for lasagna—unless you want to. Just don’t pick a spice or herb that will completely overwhelm the flavor of your ricotta cheese substitute and change the overall flavor of your dish.

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a freelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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