Whether you’re making a lasagna or cannoli, ricotta cheese is a key ingredient. But what do you do if you only need a small amount and can’t use all of the ricotta within a few days?
Can you freeze ricotta? The answer is yes! However, frozen ricotta cheese will lose its fresh, smooth texture, so you will only be able to use it in baking or hot dishes. If you try to eat it right after it comes out of the freezer, it won’t have its signature creamy texture anymore.
If you are curious about why this is the case and what you can do to keep ricotta fresh for longer, read on to find out the best way to freeze ricotta cheese.
What Is Ricotta?
Ricotta actually means “recooked” in Italian. This is because ricotta is actually a byproduct of the process of making Italian cheese.
When making cheese, a liquid is removed from the cheese curds — this liquid is called whey.
Cheesemakers discovered that when whey is reheated, it will actually form a creamy, textured curd that they can enjoy fresh. That’s how ricotta is made!
While other types of cheese are aged, which means the flavors develop through the growth of bacteria, ricotta is actually a fresh cheese, which means it needs the push of acid to develop its textures and flavors.
Traditional ricotta can be made from cow’s milk, goat milk, sheep milk, and even buffalo milk. Ricotta is also relatively simple to make at home using whole milk and an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice.
Types Of Ricotta
However, there are actually quite a few different types of ricotta, which can have slightly different flavors and textures. You will see this wide variety when buying ricotta in specialty stores and cheese shops!
The type of ricotta that is sold by the tub in the grocery store is called fresh ricotta. Fresh ricotta has a fluffy and creamy texture that can be easily scooped, and it’s often used in baked pasta and even desserts.
Basket ricotta has a soft texture and is usually shaped in a solid dome. It gets its name because when it’s made, the ricotta has to be drained inside baskets.
Salted ricotta, or ricotta salata, is not fresh cheese. Instead, it is an aged cheese made from sheep milk. The cheese curd is usually pressed into a firm, solid shape and then aged for three months.
Because of its firmness, it’s perfect for slicing into small pieces and enjoying fresh.
Smoked ricotta, also called ricotta affumicata, is salted and smoked ricotta salata. It retains a creamy texture yet still has a relatively firm shape and a smoky taste.
Can You Really Freeze Ricotta?
Ricotta is a fresh cheese — it’s best when enjoyed fresh and won’t last for very long, even in the fridge.
Freezing can be tricky with ricotta because the fresh cheese may lose its moisture in the freezing process, which means it will lose its signature creamy texture.
Yes, you can freeze ricotta cheese, but it will come out of the freezer with a slightly different texture compared to when it’s enjoyed fresh.
The cheese may be a bit dryer and have a crumbly texture, which means it won’t be very enjoyable if you eat it on its own.
If you use frozen ricotta in uncooked recipes or recipes where the texture is important, the difference in texture may ruin the taste of your meal.
Can I Freeze Meals Made With Ricotta?
Meals made with ricotta can be frozen. In fact, this is the preferred way of freezing ricotta.
By making your meal with ricotta first and then freezing it, you will be able to take advantage of the cheese’s texture and freshness, and the taste of your meal won’t be affected.
The best ricotta recipes to freeze are lasagna, pasta dishes, casseroles, or even desserts like cannoli.
How To Freeze Ricotta
The best way to freeze ricotta is by freezing an unopened container right after you bring it home from the grocery store.
If the seal is still tight and there’s no contamination to the cheese, you won’t risk the cheese losing moisture or getting freezer burns.
However, if you are working with leftover ricotta, the process of freezing will take a little bit more effort.
You’ll want to preserve its texture and prevent it from drying out in the freezer. Using an airtight container will also prevent freezer burn.
Here’s how to do it:
- Stir your container of leftover ricotta gently to smooth out the texture and ensure that it will freeze evenly.
- If you are using small portions at a time, make sure to separate the cheese into small portions before freezing so that they will be easier to separate when you are ready to cook.
- Use a paper towel to pat down the cheese to remove any excess moisture, which will also prevent freezer burn.
- Wrap the individual portions in plastic wrap to prevent the surface from drying out in the freezer.
- Transfer the wrapped pieces of cheese to an airtight container or a Ziploc bag.
- If you are using a bag, make sure to squeeze the bag to remove the excess air before freezing.
- Label the container with the use-by date.
- Depending on the type of ricotta that you have, the use-by date may be different — we’ll touch on that in the section “How Long Can You Freeze Ricotta Cheese?”
How To Freeze Meals Made With Ricotta
It’s better to freeze meals made with ricotta rather than freezing the cheese itself because the dish will be less likely to dry out or separate in the freezer.
If you want to freeze your meals, make sure to undercook the dish before freezing so that the dish won’t be overcooked when it’s reheated.
Here’s how to do it:
- Cook the dish according to the recipe’s instructions. When it’s time to bake, adjust the baking time to about 10 minutes less than the recipe’s recommendations to slightly undercook the dish.
- After you are done baking, remove the dish from the oven and let it cool down to room temperature.
- If you are freezing individual portions:
- First, cut the portions before freezing to make them easier to separate later on.
- Next, wrap each portion in cling film to prevent the surface from drying out.
- Then, place the portions inside a freezer-safe container or Ziploc bag, and seal the container.
- Finally, label the container with the use-by date and freeze it for up to 3 months.
- If you are freezing a whole dish (such as an entire lasagna):
- First, cover the entire surface of the dish with a layer of plastic film to prevent the surface from drying out.
- Then, cover the entire container with aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn.
- Finally, label the container with the use-by date and place it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
How Long Can You Freeze Ricotta Cheese?
The answer to this question depends on what type of ricotta you have.
Fresh ricotta is, well, fresh, meaning it won’t last for very long in the freezer. If you have an unopened tub, it will last for three months in the freezer. However, if you are freezing leftovers, it’s best to use them within a month.
Keep in mind that when fresh ricotta is frozen and then thawed, its texture will change significantly.
You won’t be able to enjoy its smooth texture, as the water content in the cheese has probably separated and caused the cheese to become grainy.
Basket ricotta is also fresh cheese, so it will also last in the freezer for up to a month or up to 3 months if the container is unopened.
Salted ricotta and smoked ricotta are aged cheeses, so they will freeze better than fresh Ricotta.
Because the texture is firm, it will also be less likely to separate after it’s frozen and thawed. You can freeze these types of ricotta for up to 3 months.
How To Defrost Ricotta
The best way to thaw any kind of frozen food is in the fridge, where the temperature is above the melting point of water (32°F), but the environment is still controlled so that bacteria are less likely to contaminate your food.
When you are ready to defrost your ricotta, put it in the fridge for 6–8 hours (depending on how big the piece is, it will take longer to thaw).
When you are ready to use it, you will need to first check the texture of the cheese.
If the cheese has separated, use a spoon to stir the container and mix everything together. You can even use a hand mixer to whip the cheese to add a creamy texture.
Keep in mind that the texture won’t revert perfectly to how it originally was, so make sure to use the cheese right away to prevent the texture from changing even further.
Thawed ricotta cheese can be preserved in the fridge for up to three days.
Don’t freeze ricotta cheese more than once. The cheese will lose its texture each time it comes out of the freezer, so the result won’t be very pleasant if you try to freeze ricotta the second time.
How To Reheat Meals With Ricotta
If you have frozen meals made with ricotta, you can also defrost them in the refrigerator for about 8 hours before reheating.
When you are ready to enjoy your meal, you can reheat it in the oven or the microwave.
If you have frozen an entire dish, the best way to reheat it is in the oven. Preheat the oven to the temperature that the recipe has recommended.
Remove the layer of plastic wrap, and cover the dish with aluminum foil. The aluminum foil will distribute the heat evenly and allow the dish to cook faster.
Then, place the dish on the middle rack of your oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 170°F.
Microwaving is the best way to reheat small portions of food. However, the heat of the microwave may not heat your food evenly, so it will take a bit of trial and error to ensure that your food is heated thoroughly.
Place your food in a microwave-safe container, and drizzle a little bit of water on top to prevent it from drying out in the microwave.
Place a lid on the container, and microwave using medium-high heat at 1-minute intervals until hot.
Should You Freeze Ricotta?
Although it is possible to freeze ricotta, the question of whether you should freeze ricotta is definitely up for debate.
Because ricotta is a fresh cheese, many people believe that it is best enjoyed when fresh and that you should not freeze ricotta cheese because it can affect the enjoyable texture and taste of the cheese.
This is because freezing will cause the moisture inside the cheese to freeze. When it comes out of the freezer, this moisture will thaw first and collect at the bottom, causing the separation that you see.
The fat content in the cheese will also separate in this process, causing clumps in the cheese.
Because of this separation, the smooth and creamy texture of the cheese won’t be the same. Instead, the cheese will taste flat and even grainy, which can ruin recipes where texture is very important, like cheesecakes or cannoli.
However, a case can be made for using frozen ricotta in baked dishes, like baked pasta or lasagna. These recipes use plenty of additional liquids, like oils and creams, which make up for the difference in moisture.
Ricotta doesn’t melt when it’s baked. The acidity in this type of cheese also makes it resistant to heat, which means the cheese won’t change in the oven.
That’s why you may be able to tell the difference in texture when using frozen versus fresh ricotta in a baked dish, but this difference may not be a dealbreaker.
If you are worried about this difference in texture, you may want to freeze a meal made with ricotta, rather than just the ricotta, following our instructions above.
This method will help preserve the texture of the cheese better, and it’s the best way to preserve and enjoy ricotta.
How To Tell If Ricotta Has Gone Bad
Because ricotta is fresh, it won’t last as long in the fridge and the freezer compared to other types of aged cheese.
If you buy ricotta cheese in a store, you can find the expiration date printed on the tub, which is typically not as long as other types of cheese.
Fresh ricotta will need to be preserved in the fridge and used within a week after opening. Frozen and thawed ricotta will need to be consumed within three days.
There are a few signs that can tell you that the ricotta is no longer good to use. If the cheese has developed a pinkish color, it means that it has become moldy and is no longer good to use.
If the container smells rancid, or if the cheese tastes bitter or sour, then it’s definitely no longer safe to consume.