All your questions about ricotta cheese are answered here, such as... Can you freeze ricotta cheese? How long does ricotta last? And, what are the best ricotta cheese substitutes?
Ricotta is a soft, fresh rindless Italian cheese. The flavor is similar to the flavor of cream - mild, milky and just slightly sweet. Ricotta is used in familiar recipes like lasagna, baked ziti, Vesuvio pizza and stuffed shells. It's also used in desserts like cheesecake and cannoli.
Not all recipes use up an entire container of ricotta, so many people wonder, "Can you freeze ricotta cheese?"
How It's Made
Traditional ricotta is made from whey. Whey is the liquid that is pressed out of cheese curds when cheese is made. Instead of discarding the whey, Italian cheesemakers discovered they could re-heat it and the whey would thicken into curds. This is how ricotta (which means recooked in Italian) got its name.
Usually, ricotta is made from either cow or sheep milk. Occasionally goat's milk and in a few parts of Italy that make buffalo mozzarella, it's made from buffalo milk.
These days, many brands of ricotta are made by combining whey with whole milk or cream. You can even make a relatively simple version of homemade ricotta using whole milk and vinegar.
Types of Ricotta
In Italy, you might find locally made ricotta that varies in flavor and texture depending on where it is made. Some types of Italian ricotta are soft and spreadable and others are firm and can be sliced.
In American grocery stores, you're most likely to only find commercially made ricotta that is sold in small tubs and meant for recipes like lasagna. Look a little harder in cheese shops and speciality stores and you might find other types of ricotta, too.
Fresh Ricotta: This very creamy and scoopable ricotta is sold in a tub and most often used as a main ingredient in lasagna and other types of baked pasta. It can also be used in desserts. Some commercially made brands have a grainy texture, which isn't ideal. Look for brands that are fluffy, creamy and smooth. This is typically the type of ricotta that people want to freeze for future use.
Basket Ricotta: Soft, pillowy curds are scooped into baskets to drain, which shapes the ricotta into a small dome. One example is Bellwether Farm's sheep milk basket ricotta.
Salted: Ricotta Salata is made from sheep's milk curd that has been salted and pressed and then aged for about 3 months. It has a tender but firm and sliceable texture. It's used for snacking or grating over salad or pasta.
Smoked Ricotta: Less common is smoked ricotta, or ricotta affumicata. This type of semi-firm smoked ricotta is basically ricotta salata that has been cold smoked. A unique version of smoked ricotta with a soft, creamy texture is sold by Artisanal cheesemakers like Crooked Face Creamery.
Frequently Asked Questions About Freezing and Storing Fresh Ricotta
Ricotta is a fresh, un-aged cheese that doesn't last as long as other types of cheese. I try to use up a container of ricotta within a week of opening it. It can stay fresh for slightly longer than that, but not always.
A few signs that ricotta is no longer fresh are the color (mold can give it a pinkish color), odor (rancid-milk smell) and flavor (it will taste sour or bitter).
Ricotta can be frozen for 1 to 3 months, but the texture will change. After being frozen and defrosted, ricotta is less fluffy and smooth and can become watery and grainy. Vigorously stirring frozen and defrosted ricotta will help bring back the creamy consistency, however it might still be slightly grainy. Ideally, use ricotta up so that you don't have to freeze it.
When dairy products are frozen, fat separation occurs, causing the fat to separate from liquid. This fat separation is what gives ricotta a grainy texture when it's defrosted. Fat separation also means that the watery parts of ricotta form ice crystals. When that ice defrosts, the consistency of ricotta becomes more watery and less creamy.
Fat separation is why it's essential to whip or stir defrosted ricotta to bring back a creamy consistency, although it's sometimes impossible to avoid the grainy texture.
Spoonable ricotta can be scooped into any freezer-safe container (like a glass jar or Tupperware) and frozen. An unopened container of ricotta from the store can just be frozen in the container, but once defrosted you'll need to use the whole container. Basked molded ricotta can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and placed in a freezer-safe bag.
To defrost frozen ricotta, put it in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Once ricotta is defrosted, it should be used within 2 days.
Yes, ricotta does quite well when frozen into recipes, especially when the dish will be baked, such as pasta or casseroles.
You can also freeze desserts with ricotta like cannoli. Check out this article from pantryandlarder.com for detailed instructions about freezing cannoli.
Cottage cheese: Depending on the brand, cottage cheese can taste more tangy than ricotta. However, the high moisture content and creamy (but not overly rich) texture makes its a good substitute for ricotta in baked pasta recipes like Mom's Cottage Cheese Lasagna from Neighborfoodblog.com. Buy small curd cottage cheese to replace ricotta.
Quark: Quark is a fresh dairy product that's a cross between yogurt and cottage cheese.
Creme Fraiche: Creme fraiche is French cultured cream. The cream is thickened either by natural bacteria (unpasteurized cream) or a starter culture (pasteurized cream). It has a higher fat content than ricotta and smoother, richer texture. I use creme fraiche instead of ricotta in my favorite cheesy lasagna recipe.
Mascarpone: Mascarpone is an Italian dairy product made from cream that has been thickened by citric acid. It has a smooth texture and slightly sweet flavor. Mascarpone has a high butterfat content, which makes it richer and thicker than ricotta. It is used in desserts like tiramisu or mixed with fresh herbs for a savory topping for bread or pasta.
Fromage blanc: A spreadable whole milk cheese with a dense, whipped texture similar to cream cheese.
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