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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.
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.