attainable sustainable book cover
Check out my new book!

A Publishers Weekly top ten pick from National Geographic Books!

Making Ricotta Cheese at Home: It’s Easier than you Think!

May contain affiliate links. Please see my privacy policy and affiliate disclosure.

Making ricotta cheese at home is easy to do anytime, but it’s especially frugal when you can salvage milk that’s nearing its ‘use by’ date. It will take about an hour, start to finish, to make a batch.

Use this freshly made ricotta cheese in this vegetarian zucchini lasagna recipe.

homemade ricotta cheese in a glass bowl

Normally we go through the milk we have on hand with no problem, but occasionally it starts to sour before we can use it. This week I found myself with three quarts of milk just starting to turn and I didn’t want it to go to waste.

This is one of those recipes that’s incredibly simple once we get beyond the idea of buying it at the store. But making it at home allows us to cut out the plastic container that comes with store bought ricotta. It costs less than store bought ricotta. (I don’t know about where you live, but it’s crazy expensive here!) And making it at home can — as in this case — help you salvage milk that might be on its way out. That’s a lot of winning!

First, though, let’s talk about yield. This recipe calls for 3 quarts of milk. You will not end up with three quarts of cheese! In the process of making this recipe, the fat in the milk will be transformed into the curds that become cheese. The rest will become whey.

You will have more whey than cheese. Expect to get anywhere from one to three cups of cheese from this recipe. This will depend on the fat and casein content in the milk itself.

homemade ricotta cheese on a platter with toasted bread and grapes

How to make ricotta cheese

You’ll need to use whole milk for this ricotta cheese recipe — it’s the fat in the milk that transform into the curds that make cheese. Choose milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized. Better yet, use raw milk.

Basically, you’ll heat the milk with the salt until it simmers. Adding lemon juice to the heated milk will cause it to curdle. (It’s actually kind of fascinating!) Allow the curdled milk to sit untouched for ten minutes or so, then strain it through cheesecloth. The thickened curds will remain while the whey strains out.

It took me less than an hour to get to the straining point, but much of this was just spent waiting for the milk to warm. I think the biggest hurdle for most people would be that they don’t have cheesecloth on hand. I happened to have some, but I really think this could work in a fine sieve, too.

Honestly, I’m surprised that I’ve made it this far in life without knowing that making ricotta cheese at home is so easy. The texture of homemade ricotta can be firm or loose, depending on how long you allow it to drain. To make a looser, creamier batch, just adjust the drain time, allowing some of the moisture in the cheese to remain.

And now, about that leftover whey

You can use the leftover whey — liquid that remains after straining — in place of the liquid in just about any recipe that calls for milk (think: muffins, pancakes, bread). I used mine to make several batches of foccacia bread, and still have a bit more in the refrigerator. I’ve also heard of it being used to replace water for cooking rice and in place of milk in an au gratin potato recipe. You can also use it to jump-start a batch of homemade sauerkraut.

Can you freeze ricotta cheese?

Yes, but. You absolutely can freeze ricotta cheese. This is a great way to keep it, whether you make your own or find a killer sale on your favorite brand. But. The texture of the ricotta cheese will be slightly altered by freezing.

If you’re using the ricotta in a lasagna recipe or as an ingredient, you likely won’t even notice. If you were to eat it plain, you might.

ricotta cheese hanging in cheesecloth

★ Did you make this ricotta cheese recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!

homemade ricotta cheese in a glass bowl

Making Ricotta Cheese

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Making ricotta cheese at home is easy to do anytime, but it's especially frugal when you can salvage milk that's getting ready to go off!

Ingredients

  • 3 quarts whole milk, (I used raw milk but whole pasteurized milk will be fine)
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Mix milk and salt in a pot. Cook over medium high heat, stirring every few minutes, until the milk reaches 185 degrees. (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, bring the milk to a simmer but do not let it boil.)
  2. Stir in the lemon juice, turn the heat down to medium, and let sit for one minute. As soon as you stir in the lemon juice, you’ll see the milk start to curdle and separate into curds and whey.
  3. Gently stir again and turn off the heat. Let sit without stirring (it’s hard not to keep checking it!) for ten minutes.
  4. While the pot sits, line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth. Place the colander in a bowl to catch the whey. The whey is the liquid byproduct of making the cheese, and you know I’m not going to let that go down the drain! cheese in cheesecloth
  5. Pour the contents of the pot into the colander. Pull opposite corners of the cheesecloth together and tie a knot. Repeat with the other corners, then hang this little bag-o-cheese on the handle of a wooden spoon suspended over the dirty pot to catch any drips. Allow to drain for a couple of hours, then transfer your homemade ricotta cheese to a glass container and refrigerate.

Notes

I used raw milk but whole pasteurized milk will be fine. Just try to find milk that hasn't been *ultra-pasteurized.

This recipe will result in one to three cups of finished ricotta cheese, depending on a variety of factors.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 290Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 9gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 47mgSodium: 522mgCarbohydrates: 23gSugar: 24gProtein: 15g

Did you make this recipe?

Share an image on Instagram and tag @attainablesustainable with #attainablesustainable!

Originally published in March 2011; this post has been updated.

Click to save or share!

Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

55 comments… add one
  • Tara Mar 21, 2011, 1:29 pm

    Hi…I’ve made homemade ricotta with yogurt, full fat milk, salt and vinegar. It came out really nice.

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 21, 2011, 7:08 pm

      Interesting! It seems like there are a lot of different variations on how to do it.

    • Nikita May 23, 2020, 9:14 pm

      Could you please share the recipe

  • Robin Mar 21, 2011, 1:55 pm

    I’m bookmarking this… but wish I’d seen it/you’d posted it a few days ago. lol. We also get 1 gal of raw milk every saturday and if there is any left on saturday it’s starting to turn sour. This morning I just dumped it in my smoothie but making cottage cheese/ricotta would have been fab – there was only 2 cups or so but… Thanks for the instructions for next time!

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 21, 2011, 7:09 pm

      Robin, it sounds like you’re on the same schedule we are. I pick up fresh milk on Saturdays, and anything left from the previous week is starting to turn. I’ve used it to make pudding in the past, but wanted to try something different – and this was SO easy.

  • elizabeth Mar 21, 2011, 2:30 pm

    It’s beautiful; I love that you can slice it!

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 21, 2011, 7:10 pm

      I know – it’s totally not what I expected, but that’s okay!

      • Malou Apr 27, 2020, 10:58 pm

        What do you do with the whey?

        • Kris Bordessa Apr 28, 2020, 6:57 am

          You can stir it into pancakes, waffles, biscuits, etc. Or use it to jumpstart a ferment.

          • Caryn Jul 20, 2020, 11:45 am

            For those who don’t already know, you can’t use the whey for fermenting if the milk was pasteurized.

  • Jane Boursaw Mar 22, 2011, 5:40 am

    I wonder how much sour milk gets tossed out that could be easily turned into ricotta cheese. Excellent repurposing.

  • [email protected] Food. Stories. Mar 22, 2011, 9:50 am

    Don’t forget, you can also use flour sack towels in place of cheesecloth – they can be washed and reused until they’re ready for the rag pile!

    • david Nov 3, 2016, 10:04 pm

      A paper bag works in a pinch too.

  • Susan Mar 22, 2011, 10:36 am

    Great idea!! I tend to buy smaller containers so that I don’t waste milk but larger containers are more economical and this would be a great way to use the excess.

  • Donna Hull Mar 22, 2011, 3:33 pm

    I would have never considered making homemade ricotta cheese until reading this post. And I bet it tastes much better than the ricotta cheese you would buy in the store.

  • Sheryl Mar 23, 2011, 9:31 am

    Ricotta cheese is one of my favorite things to eat. Thanks for this recipe! I love your blog, with such great, actionable ideas. Keep up the great work.

  • maria Mar 24, 2011, 3:56 am

    I have some frozen milk (pasturized, whole), do you think i’d be able to defrost it and use for this recipe?

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 24, 2011, 6:49 am

      Oh, wow. I have no idea. I can’t see why it wouldn’t, but I’ve not actually tried that.

    • Teri Sugg Jun 4, 2013, 10:11 am

      Yes, using thawed frozen milk should work just fine. I use frozen excess goats milk to make cheese and it works great.

  • Shyla Mar 24, 2011, 6:39 am

    I didn’t realize this – thanks for the bonus tip!

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 24, 2011, 6:51 am

      I know! I didn’t realize it, either until I started poking around.

  • Shu Han Mar 25, 2011, 6:26 am

    That’s fantastic! Now I won’t have any qualms about buying too much milk. I usually freeze half just inc ase, but defrosted milk isn’t really that good for drinking anymore.. thanks for sharing! i did make yogurt cheese before, and this sounds quite similar!

    https://mummyicancook.blogspot.com/2011/01/homemade-cream-cheese.html

  • sarah henry Mar 25, 2011, 8:34 am

    Have rediscovered ricotta. Love it on rustic, whole grain bread with jam. Must give this a go.

  • Elise Johnston-Agar Dec 23, 2012, 11:47 pm

    I love your site & feel the same about most things you write (& also am missing that recipe-following gene!)
    btw I’ve come across a few fermenting recipes that use whey including a ‘lacto-fermented’ ketchup …

  • julie Mar 4, 2013, 11:07 am

    You can also just set the soured raw milk out in a clean jar for a day til it thickens (clabbers) then hang/strain and you`ll have cream cheese, also tasty.

  • jan pelmulder Jul 4, 2013, 8:00 pm

    When I was a kid on the ranch we didn’t have a way to refrigerate milk. After straining it was put in pans and kept in the cupboard. My mother would skim the cream off and do something to make the milk clabber. Wish I could remember what. What I do remember is cutting the clabbered milk into squares and then heating it. It separated into small curds like cottage cheese. We ate it like that with salt & pepper or added cream so it had the texture of store cottage cheese. Since I no longer have cows I don’t often have extra milk but your recipe sounds good so I’m going to make some.

  • Eric B. Nov 24, 2013, 5:05 pm

    I would have called the cheese you made in this recipe paneer. I think of ricotta as cheese made from whey. R-i is the Italian version of the prefix re- and cotta means cooked, as in terracotta, for example, so ricotta means recooked, specifically heating the whey again after making regular cheese. If you make any kind of basic, normal cheese and then re-heat (re-cook) the whey to near boiling the proteins in the whey will precipitate out and can be strained through a very fine cloth, which gives you a spreadable cheese with the right consistency for filling cannoli, making ricotta pie, stuffing pasta, etc.

  • George Franke Dec 19, 2013, 12:54 pm

    I tried making mozzarella last week for the first time. It came out like ricotta. A little bit firm, but the taste and texture was definitely ricotta. I asked Richi Carroll’s group what happened and they said it was probably the milk being pasturized at too high a temperature. Anyhow, like you I throw nothing away. So when my next try at mozzarella came out ok, I now had the fixings for Baked Macaroni. or Lasagna…just add the noodles and sauce, right? Well, I decided on baked ziti…and I tore up the ricotta and just added it willy-nilly to the cooked ziti. Slathered some sauce on it. Topped it with the mozzarella and baked covered 1 hour at 425 degrees. Well, it came out better than any catered tray I’ve bought. The point I’m making is the ricotta just melted…when I stirred it upon serving it melded with the mozzarella for a great taste. So…don’t sweat putting the firm ricotta into a baked dish, it melts down just fine.

    George

  • jonathan Dec 30, 2013, 8:46 am

    I got some bleu cheese culture from a site and use it when milk goes sour. i basically do the same thing but add the culture and let it age for about a month. Real natural cheese helps my digestion and tastes amazing.

  • Jennifer Mar 17, 2014, 8:55 am

    Thanks for sharing! I made this today with raw milk that was about a month old. Plan on making lasagna tonight! YUM!!

  • david Nov 3, 2016, 10:15 pm

    You can also use white vinegar/apple cider instead of citrus and a fine strainer, after straining it well and lightly pressing on it you can put it in a paper bag and roll it tight and then weight it with something (i used left over Elk Stew from the night before 🙂 on a couple paper towels in the refrigerator. The liquid left over is the whey and it is super good for you, high in protein and other goodies, it truly is the other broth.

  • barbara Nov 15, 2016, 5:10 pm

    Can you use lactose free milk?

    • Kris Bordessa Nov 16, 2016, 9:05 am

      I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t, but I’ve never tried it.

  • Meredith Oct 6, 2017, 9:51 am

    I don’t have 3 quarts of milk and I am trying to make a reduced amount (4 cups). It doesn’t look to make very much churd. Going to leave it to separate longer.

  • Carol Smith Jan 30, 2018, 9:14 am

    I have 2% milk that needs to be used up. Do you think this would work? And how long does ricotta last once made? Does it have same shelf life as the milk?

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 30, 2018, 9:20 am

      It won’t be quite as creamy, but yes, it should work. Once it’s turned into cheese, it should last longer than milk would. Just wrap it well. (We always gobble ours up before it goes bad!)

  • Michelle Mar 24, 2018, 10:16 pm

    An easy to make alternative to store bought ricotta. Great recipe!

  • Ellen Couch Sep 7, 2019, 7:56 am

    I made a big boo-boo making my yogurt last night. I guess I let it cool off too much before I added the yogurt starter, let it run the 8 hours so it would become yogurt and needless to say it did not produce yogurt. It separated so I had clabbered milk and whey. I found this website and so I decided to try my hand at making cheese. It turned out great, it has a very slight yogurt taste which I like but it is definitely cheese. Smooth and creamy, don’t think it will harden up enough to slice. So if you goof up making your yogurt turn it into cheese. Yum yum.

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 13, 2019, 5:24 am

      Good save!

  • Tim Bloomer Nov 24, 2019, 6:35 pm

    Kris, sorry to state this again, as some-one did several years ago, this is NOT Ricotta, but a version of Cottage Cheese. Ricotta is only made from whey, which is taken from other cheeses. I have seen it made from Mozzarella whey, but could also probably be made from Cheddar or most other wheys.

  • DavetteB Feb 18, 2020, 2:53 am

    Since you are using raw milk, if it sours it isn’t spoiled like store milk. You can use it like buttermilk in pancakes, biscuits, and other baked goods. You could also freeze some when it is fresh to help it last longer. HTH

  • Adriane W Apr 21, 2020, 5:30 am

    Had no whole milk, therefore used 2% that was going south. Thanks for previously stating it should work. It did but had to use 3times the lemon juice. When it didn’t curdle with the original 3 tbsp I decided was going to have to dump anyway so added another 3. It began to curdle a bit so threw in additional 3. Magic number. I then let it sit again for 10 minutes and a bit longer till curdles were like your pics. It’s draining now. Didn’t quite make 3 cups but close. The whey tastes wonderfully lemony. Will be great in sourdough biscuits. Thanks for the inspiration. And it does not taste like cottage cheese but definitely like ricotta even if not made the Italian way.

  • John K Apr 25, 2020, 11:01 am

    You can also make fresh mozzarella at home too. I’ve been doing it every few weeks for about a year. I think I average a little over a pound from a gallon of whole milk. We love Caprese salad so we go through the cheese! Mozzarella uses powdered citric acid and liquid rennent. The temperatures are quite a bit lower as well.

  • Shirley Apr 26, 2020, 1:14 am

    What do you do with the whey that’s left over. You said not to throw it out.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 28, 2020, 7:03 am

      You can stir it into pancakes, waffles, biscuits, etc. Or use it to jumpstart a ferment.

  • Sudha Apr 26, 2020, 1:46 am

    This is what we call cottage cheese in India. But without the salt.
    Thank you for your recipe.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 28, 2020, 7:03 am

      Interesting — our cottage cheese has a consistency more like a chunky yogurt!

  • Margaret Apr 26, 2020, 8:02 am

    I only had a quart of milk, I adjusted recipe accordingly , but it only produced 1/3 cup of cheese. What could have gone wrong.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 28, 2020, 7:23 am

      Did you use whole milk? The amount of resulting cheese depends on the fat content. Was the milk ultra-pasteurized?

  • Marie Gilbert Apr 27, 2020, 9:58 am

    Does this work best with week-old raw milk? I just tried it and followed the recipe to the T, using fresh raw milk, and it thickened a bit, but didn’t make curds at all. Also, I used fresh squeezed lemon juice. I had 2 quarts of milk, so used 2/3 tsp of sea salt and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Any ideas?

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 28, 2020, 6:58 am

      It *could be the fresh lemon juice? Perhaps not as acidic as bottled? Fresh milk should work fine, BEST if it’s not ultra-pasteurized, as that can inhibit the process.

      • Katie B May 20, 2020, 5:42 pm

        Use vinegar instead! Mine didn’t work either but I just re-tried with the same warm milk and added 1/3c vinegar and it curdled almost instantly

  • Kelley Apr 30, 2020, 1:30 pm

    This might be a silly question, but can you use evaporated milk instead of whole milk?

    • Kris Bordessa May 21, 2020, 11:54 am

      I’ve never tried it, but it seems like maybe not?

  • Susan C Aug 20, 2020, 2:36 pm

    I’ve never made ricotta before. I only had 2 quarts of whole milk, but adjusted the lemon juice and salt as needed. When I started, it had my full attention. But, midway through heating the milk (and I had forgotten, already, to add the salt), I got a distracting call. So, I looked up and the milk was reaching the top of the pot, and the candy thermometer read 200F. I thought I’d ruined it! Added the salt, removed anything that looked weird, waited for it to come down to 185 then put the heat on super low, and added 2 tbsp lemon juice. Turned off the heat, it still wasn’t really separating enough. Added 1 more tbsp and it was all good! No overly lemony taste and excellent texture. It’s quite delicious!! And, apparently, quite forgiving. 😉

Leave a Comment