No ricotta? No problem. Here’s everything you need to know about the fluffy cheese—and what you can use if you don’t have any on hand.
What Is Ricotta?
Ricotta, which means “recooked,” is an Italian cheese made from the straggling curds in the whey (the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained) leftover from the production of other cheeses.
It can be made from pretty much any kind of milk—sheep, goat, water buffalo, etc.—but the ricotta you buy at the store is most likely made from cow’s milk.
As far as cheese goes, ricotta is light, fluffy, and abundant in moisture. This comes from the cheese’s age (or lack thereof). As cheese grows older, it becomes dense. That’s why Parmesan, which has been aged at least a year, is quite hard.
The airy texture comes at a price: Ricotta spoils much, much faster than other cheeses.
When to Use Ricotta
So how is ricotta typically used? Well, for starters, it’s an essential ingredient in lasagna. And it makes appearances in all types of pasta, fillings for pastries sweet and savory, and the batters for irresistible cakes and pancakes. Ricotta can be in simple dishes, like bruschetta, and in complex ones, like filled pastas.
If you don’t have ricotta on hand, here are six totally solid substitutes.
- Cottage cheese: As far as ricotta substitutes go, light and mild cottage cheese is your best bet. In fact, some people prefer to use cottage cheese because it has a similar flavor and fewer calories. However, it’s important to remember that they’re not quite the same: Cottage cheese is runnier and less creamy than ricotta. Opt for a small-curd cottage cheese—the large-curd form is a bit too lumpy.
- Goat cheese: Fresh goat cheese is an acceptable substitute for ricotta. Key word: Fresh. Aged goat cheese will be much heartier and strong-tasting.
- Sour cream: The textures are obviously quite different. But, in a pinch, sour cream can pass as a ricotta alternative in a dish where cheese isn’t the star of the show. If you’re looking for a sub for lasagna, though, reach for cottage or goat cheese instead.
- Cream cheese: Cream cheese is made with milk and cream, while ricotta is made with just milk. The lower fat content makes the latter cheese slightly less creamy. However, cream cheese can still be substituted for ricotta.
- Queso fresco: Queso fresco, a fresh Mexican cheese, is a good alternative to ricotta in dishes where the cheese is uncooked.
- Mascarpone: Another Italian cheese, mascarpone makes a great ricotta substitute. However, since mascarpone is more tart and flavorful, you should only use it in dishes with other strong flavors. It may overpower milder ingredients.
A version of this article originally appeared on MyRecipes.com