The possibilities for what you can do with homemade ricotta are endless. In addition to a zillion different savory preparations — lasagna! baked ricotta! mixed into red sauce! — there’s a whole world of desserts that are made infinitely better by fresh ricotta. Cannoli, cheesecake, and almond ricotta cake to name a few.
What makes this fresh ricotta different than store-bought? Both it’s delicate, creamy texture (it’s seriously light as air!) and its enjoyable zesty flavor, highlighted by using fresh lemon juice instead of white vinegar. Seriously, the taste of homemade ricotta cheese is next level!
We could go on and on, but instead we should just get right to it. Let’s make the most epic homemade ricotta, yes?
What is Ricotta Cheese?
Is there anything better than homemade ricotta? It’s impossibly light and fluffy, almost like eating a cloud, but seriously creamy. And when you make it using fresh lemon juice (instead of white vinegar), it has the most wonderful citrus notes that make it eat as light as it feels!
Ricotta cheese can be made from cows, sheeps, goats or buffalo milk. This homemade ricotta recipe is made with organic whole (full fat) cows milk.
Ingredients for Homemade Ricotta
- Whole milk, preferably organic
- Heavy cream
- A few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
- Kosher salt
Special equipment: an instant read thermometer, cheesecloth, a fine mesh strainer or sieve (the wholes in a colander are too big), and either a sauce pan (single batch) or a large stainless steel pot (double or triple batch)
How to Make Ricotta Cheese
Making homemade ricotta cheese follows the same general rules as making most other cheeses: heat milk and heavy cream in a large pot, coagulate with fresh lemon juice (or vinegar), then strain the curds.
- For this ricotta recipe, whole milk and heavy cream are heated up in a stainless steel sauce pan over medium heat to a temperature of 190-195F.
- Once warm, add fresh lemon juice (or vinegar) and ½ teaspoon kosher salt, then gently stir the mixture.
- Allow milk and cream to coagulate (it’s actively curdling), sitting for about 10 minutes.
- Carefully pour curds onto folded over layers of cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer or sieve placed over a large bowl, then strain curds for 30 minutes – 1 hour, removing excess whey halfway through to ensure the curds remain dry.
- Carefully twist the cheesecloth, gently squeezing out any excess whey one final time. Serve warm with a drizzle of high quality finishing oil and some flaky sea salt.
If you’re making a double batch (trust us, this is a good life choice), you’ll want to use a large pot, not a sauce pan.
How Long Does Homemade Ricotta Last?
The shelf life of fresh ricotta is dependent on many factors, the most important being the type and quality of the milk you use. Organic milk, for instance, has a longer shelf life than non-organic milk.
When stored properly in a sealed, airtight container, homemade ricotta will last up to 1 week in a refrigerator.
Have leftover ricotta? Use it in one of these recipes!
More Ricotta Cheese Recipes
This fresh ricotta just begs to be paired with pasta or used in a sweet dessert! Here are a few of our favorite ideas:
- Lasagna or ravioli filling, or stirred into pasta dishes
- Salmon and lemon ricotta pasta
- Eggplant rollatini or used as a filling for Cheese Manicotti.
- Baked into our all-time favorite dessert: almond ricotta cake!
- Fried into light as air fritters!
- As a spread for crostini, crackers, or toast — try adding a drizzle of honey or truffle oil!
Homemade ricotta is also a fantastic last minute addition to pizzas or pastas! Dollop a heaping spoonful on just before serving and prepare to be wowed.
And oh my goodness, our kiddos would go crazy for some homemade lemon ricotta pancakes! So would their mom!
What To Do With Leftover Whey
After straining curds, this recipe yields approximately ~3 cups of whey. Don’t throw it out!
Excess whey can be used in baking recipes as a substitute for milk or water. You can put it in smoothies (though with the addition of salt in this recipe, you might not want that), add it to soups/stews, or use it as a brine for other homemade cheeses (such as mozzarella).
There are even resources online detailing how you can use whey to water your plants!
Do Not Make Ricotta with Ultra Pasteurized Milk
While it’s not necessary to use organic milk (personal preference) when making fresh ricotta, there is one milk in particular to steer clear of: ultra-pasteurized milk. There are many organic milk brands that are ultra-pasteurized, so keep an eye out for that.
During ultra-pasteurization the milk is heated at much higher temperatures. This in turn affects its proteins in a way that they no longer coagulate when mixed with lemon juice or vinegar.
Tips For The Best Ricotta Cheese
- Heat the milk and heavy cream at a simmer, not a full boil. You don’t want to use a high temperature heat.
- Use whole milk and full fat heavy cream for a thicker ricotta mixture.
- If you like a looser cheese, strain the ricotta after 30 minutes. If you want a thicker cheese, let it sit the full 60 minutes.
This recipe could not be easier to make (it’s usually my daughter who makes this these days!) or more delicious. If you make this Homemade Ricotta, please let us know by leaving a rating and review below!
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For more recipes that use ricotta cheese, check out the following:
- Roasted grape crostini with whipped ricotta
- Butternut squash and ricotta crostini
- Easy lamb and mint ragu
- Turkish eggs with herbed yogurt and ricotta
- Cannoli cream parfaits
- Ricotta fritters with chocolate-orange dipping sauce
4-Ingredient Homemade Ricotta Cheese
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice about 1 ½ lemons
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- Heat the milk and cream. Place 4 cups whole milk and 1 cup heavy cream in a stainless steel or enamel cast iron sauce pan. Warm over medium heat to a temperature of 190-195F.
- Coagulate with lemon juice. Remove from the heat, then add lemon juice and salt, stirring once gently to combine. Let sit at room temperature or 5-10 minutes.
- Strain the curds. Place a fine mesh strainer on top of a large, non-reactive bowl. Line the strainer with a piece of cheesecloth that has been folded over 2-3x.
- Gently pour ricotta curds and whey (the liquid) over the cheesecloth and allow to drain for 30-60 minutes. The longer the ricotta sits, the thicker it will be. Begin checking at 30 minutes, draining the excess whey at the bottom of the bowl. (You can set this aside and use in other recipes, see note below!) If you're happy with the texture, move to the next step. If not, let it sit another half hour, when it has further thickened.
- Drain excess liquid. Carefully lift the cheesecloth out of the strainer, twist to seal, then very lightly squeeze out excess liquid. Transfer ricotta cheese to a bowl for serving or place in a storage container for use at a later time. Homemade ricotta is best served warm with a drizzle of high quality finishing oil and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.
- Shelf life for homemade ricotta cheese will vary based on the type of milk you use. For instance, organic milk has a longer shelf life than non-organic. In a restaurant, 3 days is the maximum time this would be served. Properly stored homemade ricotta will last up to 1 week.
- White wine vinegar can be used in place of fresh lemon juice, but the ricotta won’t have that pronounced, zesty lemon flavor.
- Excess whey can be used in baking recipes as a substitute for milk or water. You can use it in smoothies (though with the addition of salt in this recipe, you might not want that), add it to soups/stews, or use it as a brine for other homemade cheeses (such as mozzarella). It can also be used to water plants!