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Some of my favorite dishes call for ricotta cheese, be it anything from a lasagna to cannoli. Arguably, this is a very easy thing to find in the States (and presumably elsewhere), so I'd never thought about it. But, living in Japan, I have yet to find it anywhere - supermarkets, import shops, or cheese shops. (Mind you, cheese is a pretty rare thing here, and a delicacy at that.)

So, being unable to buy it anywhere, what are my options? Is there a substitution I can try, or is it something I can make at home?

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9 Answers

Pulse posted a recipe, and while I've made ricotta using the yogurt/vinegar combo before, I find you get better tasting ricotta with this simple recipe:

  • 1 liter whole fat milk
  • 1/4 liter sour milk/buttermilk (2%+ fat)
  • Large pinch of salt

Bring the milk, buttermilk and salt to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Simmer for a few minutes, until the milk curdles. Pour the curds and whey through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, and hang the cheesecloth for 15-30 minutes. The longer you wait, more solid your ricotta will become. One liter of milk will make about 150-200 grams of solid ricotta.

I like this recipe because of its simplicity. You get better results by using better quality dairy, and you can substitute sheep/goat milk if available. It also scales extremely well, and often I quadruple the recipe without a hitch.

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You can also use yogurt instead of buttermilk. –  Recep Jul 13 '10 at 8:00
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Joe mentioned tofu as a ricotta substitute when making cannoli; I recommend it for lasagna as well.

I love my mom's lasagna, and I only found out as an adult that she uses soft tofu instead of ricotta. Now, I do the same.

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You can make ricotta at home and it's not that difficult. You don't need anything that may be hard to find. Here's a really simple recipe:

http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/homemade_ricotta_cheese/

As a substitute, you have a few options. One would be cottage cheese. The problem is it tends to be a bit watery, so dump a pot or two into some fine cheesecloth, place it in a strainer for an while and it will be a little better.

Another option would be Paneer. it's really simple to make and you can have it ready within the hour. here's a recipe:

How to Make Paneer

Whilst both of these options work, they will not be ricotta...

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See some of the other suggestions for trying to actually make cheese ...

... but for lasagna, you don't necessarily need ricotta -- there are a number of very good recipes that use a bechamel (white sauce) and only a little bit of a grating cheese (parmesean, pecorino romano, etc.) on top.

For the cannoli, you might try experimenting with sweetening some silken tofu, and putting it through a blender to make it creamy. I'd try using powdered sugar, if it's available, both because it won't leave a gritty quality, and it contains cornstarch which might help to keep it from getting too watery. A quick internet search found a few hits on 'tofu cannoli' and 'soy cannoli' if you want to see what other people have done.

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+1 for lasagna with bechamel and grated cheese –  Recep Jul 13 '10 at 8:02
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My mother doesn't like ricotta cheese, so all of the lasagna I had growing up was with cottage cheese plus some extra Parmesan cheese in place of ricotta. My family enjoyed that recipe many years. (Note: I'm not saying this makes a similar flavor -- it doesn't. She did this specifically because she doesn't like the flavor of ricotta.)

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You might want to try fresh Ricotta still. My mom would skip the Ricotta or use a very small amount in her Lasagna for the same reason of disliking the flavor, but that was store bought. When I made the Ricotta using the method in my answer, it was so good we increased the amount from the original recipe (so say orig was 1 cup, she was doing 0-1/4 cup, with fresh we went with 1.5 cups). It is now one of the primary flavors in my Lasagna. –  ManiacZX Jul 24 '10 at 22:31
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True ricotta is a whey cheese. It is relatively easy to make provided you have access to a decent volume of whey and the ability to heat and strain it. I'd say you'd probably want around 10L of whey to make the effort worth your while.

Because of the low yield associated with traditional ricotta recipes, some home cheese-makers choose to augment the recipe by cutting the whey with a quantity of milk. This will dramatically increase the yield, but may affect the flavour and texture of the cheese.

As others have suggested, if cottage cheese is available where you are it may provide a suitable substitute. Especially if you blend it a little first to make it smoother. Paneer is very easy to make at home, but has a much firmer texture than ricotta. I have never experimented with tofu as a ricotta substitute myself, but it seems that a soft tofu might be suitable.

It is also very easy to make a simple soft fresh cheese by culturing a few L of milk with a tablespoon or so of buttermilk.

Ricotta Heat 10L of whey (from a rennet cheese NOT direct acidified) to 60C in a covered pot. Add 30mL of vinegar (and 60mL of salt if desired). Slowly increase heat to 80-90C, checking periodically for the formation of curds. (I find it usually takes about 40-50 minutes.) Ideally three "eyes" should form on the surface of the curds, although this does not always happen. The curds should look somewhat dry on the surface when they are done. Strain through cheesecloth and allow whey to completely drain from curds.

In my experience, this recipe makes about 100g of ricotta per L of whey used. However, I use sheep milk and whey. I would expect the yield to be roughly halved when using cow's milk/whey.

Quark Warm 2L of cream (10-20% butterfat content; preferably pasteurized at low temperatures, UHT milk will NOT work) to 32C. Add 15mL buttermilk. Leave to culture for at least four hours. The cream should thicken (into sour cream). You may also see a small amount of whey separating out from the cream. Strain through butter muslin or a double layer or cheesecloth.

This should produce a fresh, light, slightly tangy spreadable cheese. The flavour and texture are different than that of ricotta, but you may find it a palatable substitute nonetheless. And it may be easier for you to make than true ricotta.

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We always just used mozzarella cheese in lasagna and loved it. But it in layers and on top of the lasagna.

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Sometimes the simplest solutions are best. Welcome to Seasoned Advice Cheryl! –  Preston Fitzgerald Apr 2 at 14:35
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I've used this recipe http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/000282.html for making fresh ricotta.

Also, depending on what you are putting it into, the acid from a small amount of lemon juice will also help start the curdling and carries a nice taste into the cheese.

As for finding the cheesecloth, my best source has been the hardware store (Home Depot and Lowes here), the paint section carries cheesecloth for straining paint.

I strongly recommend making your own, the first time I made a batch for my mom when she was making Lasagna, it took the dish to a whole new level.

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Hurrah! Another use for the citric acid that I bought last month to make elderflower cordial. –  FordBuchanan Jul 24 '10 at 16:47
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I'd go for sauce béchamel for lasagna and cannelloni if you have to find a quick solution.

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