Ricotta is a fresh cheese, a by-product made from the watery whey drained off other Italian cheeses such as mozzarella and provolone. Although you can eat this sweet, smooth cheese on its own, ricotta is most commonly an ingredient in desserts and pasta dishes.
If you are seeking a substitute for ricotta cheese that will be lower in fat, try cottage cheese or fromage blanc. Readily available cottage cheese is a simple cheese with a mild taste; its name derives from its humble origin as the milk left over from European cottagers' butter making. It is available in both large and small curd form. Fromage blanc is less firm, having the consistency of a thick yogurt. Although it is expensive and difficult to find, fromage blanc is flavorful and especially tasty as a dessert topping.
Substitutes Good For Fillings
Both clabber cream and buttermilk cheese are excellent ricotta cheese substitutes, particularly when used as a filling for pasta, according to the Cook’s Thesaurus. Rich and thick, clabber cream, or clotted cream, is a yellowish cooked cream product popular in England as a topping for scones. It is produced in other cultures as well, and is traditionally made by skimming the cream from the top of heated high-fat milk. Buttermilk cheese is not available in stores, but is easy to make at home by straining buttermilk through several layers of cheese cloth. Allow the buttermilk to drain into a container in the refrigerator overnight until it is reduced to a soft cheese-like consistency.
Vegan and Non-Dairy Substitutes
Many people seek a substitute for ricotta cheese because of dietary sensitivities or allergies, or because they wish to observe a vegan diet. Tofu, or soybean curd, can readily fill in as a dairy-free alternative to ricotta cheese. When you are substituting tofu for ricotta cheese, it is best to choose a firm silken tofu, which has a creamy and custard-like consistency, rather than regular tofu, which is more dense and solid. The ingredients you add to the tofu will depend on the type of recipe you are making. In a dessert recipe, you can simply add lemon juice, according to the Savvy Vegetarian website. When making a filling for Italian dishes such as lasagna, you may want to add olive oil, nutmeg and seasoned salt, as suggested by the Fowler Allergy website.
Other substitutes for ricotta cheese include fresh goat cheese, pot cheese, queso fresco or Requeson cheese. Fresh goat cheese -- not to be confused with aged goat cheese -- is similar to fromage blanc, except made with goat’s milk. Soft, crumbly and unaged, pot cheese is similar to cottage cheese, but has a drier and less creamy consistency. Queso fresco is a mild and grainy Mexican cheese that softens but doesn’t melt when heated; it is available in Mexican grocery stores. Requeson cheese is another fresh Hispanic cheese, similar in consistency to ricotta, and useful for dips and desserts.
Gwen Bruno has been a full-time freelance writer since 2009, with her gardening-related articles appearing on DavesGarden. She is a former teacher and librarian, and she holds a bachelor's degree in education from Augustana College and master's degrees in education and library science from North Park University and the University of Wisconsin.