Homemade ricotta is super creamy, perfectly tangy, and ridiculously easy to make at home. Best of all, it’s ready in as little as 15 minutes. You’ll never go back to store-bought ricotta after you’ve learned how to make it at home!
The most satisfying foods I make in my kitchen are generally the simplest. Good, crusty bread. Basic soups. Simple, seasonal salads. A whole roasted chicken.
And now I can add cheese to that list – and you can too!
It’s shockingly easy to make a variety of simple cheeses at home, and the results are insanely delicious. So far I’ve stuck with the really easy stuff – paneer, queso fresco, and ricotta. I’d like to try fresh mozzarella, and if that’s successful I’ll go for burrata too. All of the cheese, all of the time.
If you’re new to cheese-making, homemade ricotta is a great place to start. It’s super creamy, perfectly tangy, and stupid easy to make. The methodology is simple, the tools are minimal, and the results are the stuff cheese dreams are made of.
Homemade ricotta can be ready in as little as 15 minutes, and the hardest part is scraping together enough self-control to share it with others. But if you do happen to consume an entire batch in one sitting (coughcoughcough), another round is just 15 minutes away. So it’s all good.
Tools and Ingredients for Making Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Most simple cheeses are made with just milk, salt, and acid. The differences come from how hot you heat the milk, which acid you use (lemon juice and white vinegar are most common), and how you treat and strain the curds.
To make homemade ricotta, you need just a few simple kitchen tools:
The list of ingredients is even shorter:
- Whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
- Kosher or sea salt
- Distilled white vinegar
Be picky about your milk! Homemade cheese is a place to be very choosey about what sort of milk to use. Buy the best quality that you can afford, and make sure it’s not ultra-pasteurized. The super high heat used in ultra-pasteurization denatures (aka “unwinds”) the milk proteins, which means they won’t respond properly to the acid, and therefore won’t curdle correctly or at all. No curdles = no cheese = sad, sad aspiring cheesemaker.
I like to use local, organic, non-homogenized milk that’s minimally pasteurized, which I purchase from our local co-op. This handy link lists local milk sources by state. If you’re on a budget, Trader Joe’s sells low pasteurized organic milk and their pricing is a bargain. Check the label and make sure it doesn’t say “ultra pasteurized” – if not, you’re good to go.
How to Make Ricotta Cheese Step-by-Step
First things first, prepare your cheesecloth for straining. Place four layers of cheesecloth over a fine mesh sieve, then nest the sieve into a mixing bowl.
Place four cups of milk into a heavy-bottomed pot, then place over medium high heat. Heat the milk, stirring occasionally to prevent scalding, until the milk just barely boils and/or reaches a temperature of about 170°F.
The temperature is important!
The trick to getting ricotta just right is heating the milk to the right temperature. Too hot and you’ll end up with harder curds better suited to a paneer-type cheese. Too cool and your curdles will be too soft or small. I found 170-175°F to be the perfect temperature for soft, but substantial curdles. Use a digital thermometer if you’re nervous about eyeballing it. Over medium-high heat, it should take 7-8 minutes to reach the right temperature.
As soon as the milk reaches temperature, remove the pot from heat. Add the salt and white vinegar, give it a quick stir, then set aside for a few minutes until the curds separate from the whey, like the photo above.
Pour the contents of the pot over the prepared cheesecloth and allow the cheese to strain from the whey for anywhere from 5-15 minutes. Less time will result in a creamier cheese, more time will result in a drier, thicker cheese.
The photo above is after about 2 minutes. Another minute or two, and it will be perfect for serving warm, on its own, drizzled with honey. So good.
This photo is after about 5 minutes (my perfect consistency,). This consistency is perfect for ricotta toast or garnishing fresh pasta.
This photo is after about 10 minutes – this is a drier consistency, suitable for dishes where the cheese will be baked, like lasagnes or savory tarts.
Last step – taste the cheese for seasoning and consistency. Add more salt if desired, and if you find the cheese is too firm, stir in a bit of whey until it reaches the perfect level of creaminess.
Homemade ricotta will keep in the fridge for about five days, but I think it’s served best warm, straight from the cloth.
Tips for Making Perfect Ricotta Cheese
- Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk – curdles won’t form.
- Stir the milk occasionally while heating to prevent scalding.
- Heat the milk to 170-175°F for medium-sized, soft curdles.
- Fresh lemon juice can be substituted for white vinegar, but it must be fresh.
- Strain to desired consistency – as little as 5 minutes for creamy ricotta, as much as 15 minutes (or longer) for firmer ricotta.
- Store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
How to Use Homemade Ricotta Cheese
This ricotta cheese can be used anywhere you’d use store-bought ricotta cheese, with the benefit of added flexibility for consistency. Because you’re straining it yourself, you can aim for a soft, medium, or firm consistency, suitable to a variety of uses:
- Wetter, softer ricotta is great for serving on its own, drizzled with honey and garnished with berries as a dessert.
- A medium consistency is great for spreading on toast or flatbread, or garnishing fresh pasta – I’m a ricotta toast addict, and you will be too!
- A drier consistency is suitable for recipes where the ricotta will be baked, like lasagne or savory tarts (you’ll want less moisture so the finished recipe doesn’t become soggy).
Recipes Featuring Ricotta Cheese
- Ricotta Pasta with Peas and Leeks
- Mini Butternut Squash Tarts
- Ricotta Toast Two Ways
- Spring Pasta Primavera with Lemon Ricotta
- Leek, Sausage and Ricotta Focaccia
DID YOU MAKE THIS HOMEMADE RICOTTA CHEESE RECIPE?!? I’D LOVE TO KNOW HOW IT TURNED OUT! LEAVE A COMMENT AND A RATING BELOW 👇
Kitchen Basics: Homemade Ricotta Cheese
- 4 c. organic whole milk non-ultra pasteurized
- 1 tsp kosher salt plus more for sprinkling
- 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
- Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat and affix a thermometer to the side of the pot. Heat the milk, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until the temperature reaches 170°F, 7-8 minutes.
Remove the pot from heat, then add the salt and white vinegar to the milk. Stir gently until soft curds form and completely separate from the whey, 1-2 minutes.
Strain the curds into the cheesecloth lined mesh strainer and then gently stir the curds with a wooden spoon until the most of the whey has drained from the curds. You may need to dump the excess whey from the mixing bowl if it becomes too full. Continue to gently stir the cheese until it reaches the desired consistency (see Notes).
Scrap the ricotta from the cheesecloth into a bowl, taste for seasoning, and sprinkle in extra salt as desired. If the ricotta is too thick, stir in additional whey, a teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. Serve warm immediately, or transfer to a lidded container and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. Makes about a cup.
- Do not use ultra-pasteurized milk, as it will not curdle.
Notes on temperature:
The trick to getting ricotta just right is heating the milk to the right temperature. Too hot and you'll end up with harder curds better suited to a paneer-type cheese. Too cool and your curdles will be too soft or small. Aim for 170-175°F and use a digital thermometer for accuracy.
Notes on consistency:
- Wetter ricotta is great for serving on its own with a bit of honey and berries as dessert.
- A medium consistency is great for spreading on toast or flatbread
- A drier consistency is suitable for traditional, store-bought ricotta uses, like lasagne.
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