Ricotta is a pretty distinctive member of the cheese family that possesses quite a few odd characteristics. For one, the name ‘ricotta’ translates to ‘recooked’. Deriving from Italy, ricotta is fabricated using the leftover liquids, or whey, that is leftover from producing other cheeses. Generally, the ricotta that you buy in the store will be made from cow’s milk, but there is no set rule on that. It can equally be made using any other form of milk. It takes very little time to mature, as it is intended to be sold as a ‘young’ cheese. It is this part that gives it quite a bit of its uniqueness.
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What makes ricotta different from other cheeses?
Because of the fact that ricotta isn’t a mature cheese, it is a quite moist but also fluffy cheese. This makes it an obvious go-to choice when it comes time to make a lasagna. However, because of its relative youngness, ricotta really doesn’t last that long in storage. It will last nowhere near as long as a less porous and more mature cheese. So, though ricotta is a great choice for including in many dishes, it makes sense sometimes to look for an alternative. Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there. In this little guide, we will run through the best substitutes that you can find.
Common uses for ricotta cheese
Ricotta is amazingly versatile and a great asset to have at your disposal in the kitchen. It is equally at home-baked into a sweet Easter bread as it is forming the delicious gooey texture on your lasagna. And, it is more than capable of filling the void in a lot of recipes in between. Some of our personal favorite recipes using ricotta are…
- Warm apple and pistachio salad
- White seafood lasagna
- Chocolate ricotta pie
- Lime ricotta pancakes
- Pistachio cannoli
Naturally, there are millions of great recipes out there for ricotta, some of which may not have even been discovered yet. This makes substituting for ricotta a little difficult. Not every soft cheese will have the same range as the humble ricotta. Some may work much better for use in desserts, while others will show their strengths only in savory dishes. We have tried to put together a broad list of substitutes that covers every possible usage of ricotta we could think of.
So, without any further ado, here are the top best 5 substitutes for ricotta that money can buy!
1. Fresh Goat Cheese
In quite a few regards, fresh goat’s cheese can make an excellent stand-in for ricotta. These uses will be somewhat constrained to savory dishes, but we felt that it accomplishes this task well enough that it deserves a mention. Naturally, only the fresh, young goat’s cheese will be any good for this. More mature goat’s cheese will have a totally different flavor and will add a certain sourness to your dish. Fresh goat’s cheese is best used in recipes that call for the ricotta to be used for a topping over desserts. For these uses, it can be a really easy substitute for ricotta as it is best used at a 1:1 ratio to ricotta. Though it will bring a slightly tart flavor to the dish, in many cases this will prove to be a welcome addition to the recipe. It really depends on personal taste.
2. Sour Cream
This is perhaps the most simplistic substitute for ricotta on the list, but in some senses, it may also be the best. Though it isn’t a cheese, it will have quite a few of the same characteristics of ricotta when deployed in certain dishes. Sour cream is made by fermenting natural cream with lactic bacteria, giving it its distinctive tart taste. This essentially makes it perfect for quite a few uses, particularly as toppings for desserts. However, it can also hold its own as the base for dipping sauces for potato chips and vegetables, etc. But its usefulness doesn’t end there! It can also make a great topping for things like baked potatoes and cakes. It really depends on what you put into the cream to flavor it.
What better to substitute a soft Italian cheese with than another soft Italian cheese, right? Given that mascarpone is prepared using citric acid, the flavor can be a bit different though. It definitely makes its presence known in a dish, whereas ricotta will kind of just hang out in the background. As such, mascarpone won’t be a great substitute for ricotta in all that many dishes. But, it works fantastically well for dishes that have other strong flavors in there. Basically, if the mascarpone has to compete against other flavors, it will generally sink away into the background. Still, we much prefer to use mascarpone as a substitute in desserts or in risottos. It is also an excellent filling for cannoli if you are in a tight spot. It is also worth noting that mascarpone is much higher in fat than ricotta.
4. Cream Cheese
A regular store-bought cream cheese will have quite a few traits in common with ricotta. It’s soft and creamy in texture and doesn’t really have any strong flavor. However, it is much higher in fat than ricotta is. For some of you, this may not factor into your decision making, but for others, it can be a deal-breaker. Apart from this though, it is difficult to overlook the sheer versatility of cream cheese. In fact, we struggled to think of anything that ricotta can do that cream cheese cannot. We have used it as a lasagna ingredient, we’ve used it in cheesecake, we’ve even had it as the base of a filling in cannelloni. It kind of does it all!
So, is this the perfect substitute for ricotta?
Really, the only downside of using this substitute is the fat content. Unfortunately, there is no way of sidestepping this unfortunate truth. You can try using the low and non-fat versions, but each of these will have knock-on effects on the texture and flavor of the dish. So, it isn’t the perfect replacement, but it does come close. Our best tip is to use it in moderation as a substitute.
For the vegans and/or the culinarily curious amongst you, tofu might be just what you have been looking for. Oddly enough, it also shares quite a few characteristics in common with ricotta. Silken tofu, in particular, is so similar in texture that it could even fool the most seasoned of palettes. Tofu is made by pressing coagulated soy milk into blocks. Silken tofu is quite smooth and not very dense. Because of this, it can absorb seasonings incredibly well. So, before using it, season it according to your preferences and drain the water and mix it to the desired texture that you need. If you hit the balance just right, it can work as a filling for lasagna equally as well as it can become the sweet filling for cannoli! It really is the perfect substitute for those on a lactose-free diet.
Most of these substitutes should be really easy to find in your local store. The real difficulty here is deciding which substitute will work for which purpose and then trying to figure out how much of that substitute to use. Under each of the options above, we have tried to highlight whether or not they are fitting substitutes for both sweet and savory use. Unfortunately, not one substitute seems to be capable of filling in for every possible usage of ricotta – which will give you a hint as to how unique ricotta is! For example, sour cream is remarkably versatile but we wouldn’t attempt to use it as an ingredient in cheesecake. The good news is that every ingredient listed above can be used at a 1:1 ratio to ricotta. Some mixing may have to be done first to match the texture of the ricotta, but that’s it.