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How Do I Choose the Best Ricotta Substitute?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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Ricotta is an Italian-style fresh cheese with a mild flavor and a smooth, creamy texture. It is used in a number of savory and sweet dishes, such as lasagna and cannoli. When ricotta is unavailable, it is possible to use several different cheeses as a ricotta substitute. Many cooks agree that mascarpone and cottage cheeses make the best ricotta substitute. Those with sensitivities to cows’ milk may find that certain types of goat cheese make a good substitute, while vegans might try using blended tofu in place of ricotta.

Due to its mild flavor, ricotta is something of a “blank canvas” which adopts the flavors of the ingredients with which it is prepared while contributing its own rich creaminess. When used in cannoli, for instance, the cheese takes on a sweet, vanilla-laced taste. Added to lasagna, on the other hand, it becomes suffused with the flavors of garlic and herbs. The best ricotta substitute, therefore, is one which is similarly mild in flavor and smooth in texture.

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Many cooks agree that the most accurate ricotta substitute is either cottage cheese or mascarpone. While a high-quality cottage cheese often closely approaches the mild flavor of ricotta, it must be blended in a food processor to achieve a smooth consistency. Mascarpone is extremely smooth in consistency, although it is usually denser than ricotta, and its flavor also typically has a slight tang not present in ricotta. Due to these slight taste differences, it may be advisable to use cottage cheese in subtly flavored dishes and mascarpone in those which contain strong ingredients like garlic.

Some people have sensitivities to the proteins found in cows’ milk. To avoid digestive upset, these individuals may wish to use a ricotta substitute which does not contain cows’ milk. Here, a mildly flavored, creamy fresh goat cheese may make a good substitute. For a taste which closely resembles ricotta, however, cooks should make sure they do not substitute aged goat cheese, which has a fairly strong, distinctive flavor.

Finally, it is even possible for vegans to prepare an acceptable ricotta substitute. A ricotta-like substance which is free from animal products can be made by blending firm tofu in a food processor until it becomes smooth and creamy. Adding a small amount of olive oil before blending may improve the mixture’s texture. If this substitute will be used in a savory dish, the cook may wish to enhance its flavor with salt and pepper as well as fresh herbs.

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indigomoth
Post 3

@browncoat - Just don't fall into that trap that some vegetarians and other folk do of thinking that tofu is a more environmentally friendly substitute for ricotta or milk in general.

I always thought that until I read up about it and the way that they farm soy to make tofu isn't the best. Even if they do it organically, just making the room to do it can destroy native habitats. And because soy is so popular these days, it leads to massive monoculture, which is never a great thing to do to the world.

So, I try not to use it as a cheese substitute, just because basing your diet around soy isn't an environmental solution.

browncoat
Post 2

@Ana1234 - Well, I actually prefer the richer taste from marscapone, but I think it's a bit more fattening than using ricotta or even cottage cheese.

The other thing is that I think marscapone can trigger milk allergies, where ricotta and cottage cheese might not, but I'm not sure about that.

I might have to try using soy as a substitute sometime as well, as I quite like it in other recipes, but it didn't occur to me to try it for this!

Ana1234
Post 1

I find marscapone to be a little bit too rich when I use it in place of ricotta. Personally, I think cottage cheese makes the better substitute, particularly since you can easily make it yourself if you've got milk on hand but not cheese.

My friends and I used to do this when we needed some cheese to go on homemade pizzas, but we didn't have a supermarket handy. There are plenty of recipes for it online, but basically all you do is add white vinegar to milk and it separates into cheese curds. There's a bit more to it than that, but that's the basics.

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