How to Make Ricotta Cheese

A mound of fresh ricotta cheese in a green and white bowl on a wooden table.

Ricotta is a soft cheese that's quick and easy to make. Use your fresh ricotta cheese in pasta dishes, dotted on top of a pizza, in homemade lasagna and other dishes. Learn how to make fresh ricotta cheese from scratch.

How to make ricotta cheese with goat milk (or cow's milk)

Several years ago during National Goat Cheese Month, I challenged myself to make a different kind of cheese from goat milk every week.

My Nubian dairy goats - Felicity, Ziva, Firefly and Phoenix - provided the milk I used to make the cheese, but you don't have to be limited to goat milk.

If you're buying cows' milk from the grocery store though, I recommend that you buy whole milk. Skim and low fat milk won't work as well for cheesemaking.

If you're a beginning cheese maker, check out my post on making farmer's cheese too. Farmer's cheese is definitely the easiest soft cheese to make, but ricotta is a very close second. 

More about ricotta cheese

Italian traditional cheese makers used fresh whey to make ricotta cheese. In other words, they were using whey that was left over from making another cheese first. In essence, it was free cheese, made from leftovers.

That's how I'd been making it in the past, using the whey left over when I made farmer's cheese. I liked the "free" part, but the yield when I made it this way was disappointingly small.

Cheese is made by adding a culture to milk, which separates the curds (cheese) from the whey (liquid). Essentially, the whey still contains some of the fat that makes cheese. Ricotta is traditionally made by adding citric acid to the whey and reclaiming the lost milk fat.

Then I found a recipe for whole milk ricotta and decided to change my ways. It's so much more rewarding, with a much-larger yield.

Ingredients needed

You'll need the following ingredients to make ricotta cheese.

  • 1 gallon cold milk - I used raw whole goat milk, but you can use pasteurized whole milk from the grocery store. 
  • 1 tsp citric acid (Amazon) or citric acid (Hoegger Supply Co)
  • 1 tsp cheese salt (Amazon) or cheese salt (Hoegger Supply Co)

Small bags of cheese salt and citric acid from Hoegger Goat Supply.

Do you have to use goat milk?

As you can see, this recipe uses whole milk instead of whey.

If you prefer to use cow's milk from the grocery store rather than goat milk, use whole milk. Skim and non-fat milk don't contain enough milk fat to work properly, and ultra-pasteurized milk won't curdle correctly.

Equipment needed to make ricotta cheese

You'll need the following equipment to make ricotta cheese:

  • large non-reactive pot
  • spatula
  • thermometer that attaches to the side of the pot
  • colander or strainer
  • cheesecloth (available here at Hoegger Supply Co. or here from Amazon) 

There are a few more items I used but they are optional. Read through the directions and decide whether or not you'll need these or if you can substitute with other items you have on hand:

  • a large bowl to catch the whey
  • large rubber band
  • wooden spoon
  • tall pitcher

Let's make ricotta cheese - the directions

Add all of the ingredients in the pot (milk, citric acid and cheese salt) and stir.

Attach the thermometer to the side of the pot with the attached clip. Make sure it doesn't touch the bottom of the pot, but it does need to be immersed in the milk.

A red pot on a white electric stove, full of milk, with a black spoon and and a cheese thermometer

Over medium heat, warm the milk to 195°F. Temperature is important when making cheese.

While you need to stir the milk occasionally as it heats so it won't scorch, stirring it too much will make the curds too fine. There's a fine line, but you'll just have to learn that from experience. I can't tell you how much is too much!

As you get closer to the correct temperature, you'll begin to see the curds and whey separate. 

A large pot of milk with a thermometer in it.

A pot of milk that's separating into curds and whey.

When the thermometer finally reaches 195°F carefully move the pot off the burner and let it set undisturbed for five minutes. There's no rushing this parr, so set a timer and wait...

Goat curds are fragile, so you have to be gentle. That's why you can't over-stir the milk while it heats, and why you have to allow it to take as much time as needed to separate.

Curds separating from whey

A woman's hand using an orange measuring cup to gently scoop the curds out of a large pot.

Draining the whey from the curds

Now it's time to drain the whey, but you must be gentle! Don't just pour the pot into a colandar or the curds will break.

Here's how I do it:

I put the colander in my largest bowl in the sink, and line it with the cheesecloth. 

(By the way, be sure you're using real cheesemaking cheesecloth, not the gauzy stuff used for crafts or painting. That kind isn't woven tightly enough and will allow the curds to slip through.)

Next, I used a measuring cup to carefully scoop up the curds and gently transfer them to the colander. Gently!

A large pot of curds and whey

With some of the curds scooped out, you can really see the difference between the curds and the whey.

Remember to scoop the curds out and to pour them gently!

A red bowl with a metal strainer set inside, lined with cheesecloth that's held on with wooden clothespins.

After the cheese drained a bit in the colander, gather the four corners of the cheesecloth and use a rubber band to close it up into a bag.

Then put the handle of a wooden spoon through the rubber band. Rest the spoon on top of a pitcher as in the close-up photo below. 

Then hang the "bag" of cheese inside the pitcher, with the spoon handle resting on the pitcher's rim. Let it drain for about an hour. The pitcher catches the whey.

The longer you let it drain, the drier your cheese will be.

A woman's hand holding the four corners of a piece of cheesecloth with curds inside.

From that one gallon of goat milk I've made close to two pounds of ricotta cheese and had almost 3 quarts of whey left over.

What to do with the leftover whey

Whey is a by-product of making cheese, the leftover liquid that drains out of the curds. While it really isn't necessary to catch and save the whey, I hate to waste anything. 

Whey has some delicious uses though, such as:

  • replacing the water in a bread recipe
  • using it to make lacto-fermented vegetables
  • feed it to your chickens
  • my dogs and cats love the excess whey

A mound of ricotta cheese with a garnish of basil leaves, in a bowl on a wooden table.

Uses for ricotta cheese

My favorite use for homemade ricotta is in lasagna - it's absolutely delicious! But of course you can use homemade ricotta in any dish that you'd make with store-bought ricotta cheese, such as cheesecake, stuffed pasta dishes, spooned on a pizza, and so on. 

You'll find even more uses for ricotta cheese here.

This fresh ricotta cheese doesn't contain preservatives, so be sure to use it up quickly. You can store it in a covered container in the refrigerator for about two days. 

Ricotta can also be frozen, but the texture will change. It can still be used in baked dishes. 

More cheeses

If you're looking for a simple, easy soft cheese to start your cheese making journey, try farmer's cheese. With just two ingredients - milk and either vinegar or lemon juice - you'll find this a beginner-friendly project..

While mozzarella cheese is a bit more challenging to make, it's definitely a cheese that we all love to eat and stretching the curds is rather fun. When you're ready for a new adventure, learn how to make mozzarella cheese in this post.

Chèvre is a soft goat cheese that can be substituted for cream cheese, is delicious with salads and bread, and seems to make any dish just that much better. Learn how to make chèvre in this post.

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Related Posts:

In celebration of National Goat Cheese Month

Text: How to make ricotta cheese at home. Yes really!


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