The Best Lasagna Ricotta Cheese Substitutes
Is there anything better than good old fashioned freshly made lasagna? It is a delicious, flavor-packed, and filling Italian dish that juts puts a smile on our faces.
However, this is a recipe that takes a lot of time and effort, so imagine the frustration when you forgot to grab something as simple as ricotta!
So, what are the best ricotta cheese substitutes for lasagna? To substitute ricotta in lasagna, it’s best to choose ingredients with similar textures, flavors, and colors. Most soft cheeses like cottage cheese, cream cheese, mascarpone, and goat cheese will work well.
There are also some other substitutes that are a bit more daring but will get the job done. These include tofu, paneer, Fromage blanc, and even a béchamel sauce.
In today’s article, we will be looking at the many substitutes for ricotta cheese, specifically when making lasagna. We will have a look at their characteristics, why they work, and how to substitute ricotta using each of these.
Before we dive deep into the substitutes for ricotta, it is important to understand what it is, and what its function is when making lasagna.
Ricotta is a type of Italian whey cheese, made from, you guessed it, whey! It can be made using cow, goat, sheep, or Italian water buffalo milk.
The process of making ricotta is fairly straight-forward, and unlike a lot of other cheeses, this one is very easy to make at home as well.
Ricotta means “recooked” or “refined” and describes the production process perfectly. To make various different cheeses, it usually involves a process of heating and cooling the milk.
This process releases whey as a by-product, which is often discarded. Ricotta is made using this whey and undergoes further processing of heating and cooling to finally produce ricotta cheese.
Ricotta is made by allowing the whey to either ferment or adding an acidic ingredient to it.
Once fermented or an acidic ingredient has been added, the whey is heated to near boiling, which helps the proteins to denature and ultimately form curds.
These curds are then cooled and left to hang in a fine cloth. Gravity assists with removing as much whey as possible to ultimately produce a solid piece of creamy white curd.
Ricotta in Lasagna
As you know, lasagna is known for its cheesiness, so not only does it have ricotta, but it’s often topped with another cheese like mozzarella, parmesan, gouda, or even cheddar.
Ricotta is used inside lasagna, not as part of the topping. It is mixed with eggs and usually seasoned with pepper, herbs, and sometimes salt.
This ricotta-egg mixture is used essentially as the “sauce” of the dish and provides not only a rich creamy flavor but moisture as well.
Lasagna can be very dry if the elements aren’t balanced, so this sauce is extremely important and irreplaceable in the dish.
While the lasagna bakes, the egg is what helps set (or thicken) the mixture so the dish isn’t watery. A lot of recipes don’t use eggs, but we highly recommend doing so. They prevent excessive water from leeching out and creating a watery dish.
Because of ricotta’s unique texture, it is the most important element to look at when deciding which substitute to use.
Ricotta’s texture is very smooth, soft, and creamy – these are the elements that give the mixture its moisture.
You cannot substitute it with cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, or swiss (any type of hard or semi-hard cheeses), as they don’t contain the correct amount of moisture like ricotta does.
The next important element is flavor. Of course, lasagna is a very flexible and forgiving dish. However, many people prefer specific tastes and should therefore choose appropriate substitutes.
If you chose a goat milk ricotta, your best substitutes would be other cheeses that are made from goat’s milk. The same goes for other types of ricotta; many people hate the taste of goat cheese and instead opt for ones made from cow’s milk.
Lastly, we’ll look at color. Now although a lot of people aren’t bothered by the color of their cheese, if for some reason you want the sauce perfectly white, choose a substitute with a white color.
For example; when using cheddar in sauces, it tends to give the sauce a yellow hue. To prevent this, use white cheddar or mozzarella.
The Best Substitutes for Ricotta
To summarize, the best and safest substitutes for ricotta in lasagna are those with similar textures, flavors, and colors.
If you are feeling experimental, try using different substitutes to find new and interesting flavor combinations with your recipe.
1. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is our personal favorite substitute for ricotta cheese, not only for lasagna but in general.
This cheese is extremely similar to ricotta; it is also made by adding acidity to whey, which is then heated, cooled, and allowed to hang so the excess whey can drain from this second round of curds.
The main difference between these two is that cottage cheese has a much coarser texture and has a lot more liquid, making it wetter compared to ricotta.
This is mainly due to the hanging process; the longer whey cheese hangs, the more moisture is lost, the drier it becomes and the smoother and more combined the curds get.
Cottage cheese comes in various textures, from fine to coarse. Because you need to mix it with an egg, we recommend using fine or medium-textured cottage cheese – these resemble ricotta the closest.
We would also recommend choosing a cottage cheese that is as dry as possible. You can try to strain the cottage cheese to remove more water, but it is optional.
If you see that the cheese is a lot wetter than ricotta, add another egg to the mixture to ensure the liquid is thickened and doesn’t leech out everywhere, creating a wet lasagna.
There are a ton of flavored cottage cheeses available, which you can either steer clear of or fully embrace.
They can add a ton of interesting flavor elements that might take your lasagna to a whole new level. We love cottage cheese with chives or basil with our lasagna.
2. Cream Cheese
Cream cheese is the next best thing! It is a very soft fresh cheese made from milk and cream.
Its consistency also varies slightly, but not nearly as much as compared to that of cottage cheese, or even ricotta. It has a spreadable, silky smooth consistency that is even creamier than ricotta and cottage cheese.
This extra creaminess comes from the higher fat content, which is because of the cream added. Plain cream cheese has a neutral yet delectable flavor that very closely resembles that of ricotta.
It also comes in a wide variety of flavors that can make your lasagna more interesting and flavorful – especially if you aren’t using a very flavor-packed base.
Additionally, you can easily find non-fat or low-fat options if you are planning on making a healthier lasagna.
When using cream cheese instead of ricotta, you are probably going to have to use more of it because of its extremely thick consistency. The addition of the egg will help make it more spreadable and bulk it up.
The egg, however, might make the sauce too thick and almost rubber-like after it has been baked (not necessarily, but we’ve seen it happen with certain cream cheese brands).
To prevent this from happening, try thinning it slightly with cream rather than adding an egg, or simply add less egg.
3. Goat Cheese
Goat’s cheese, or chevre, is a soft cheese made from goat’s milk. The process of making this cheese is similar to making any type of soft cheese; an acid is added to the milk, which is then heated, cooled, and strained.
This results in a very soft and creamy cheese which is also very spreadable; it is somewhere between cream cheese and ricotta in consistency.
The keyword with this type of substitute is fresh. Only use fresh goat cheese! Aged coat cheese has a much denser consistency that will not work as a substitute in lasagna.
Another very important factor to consider is flavor. Fresh goat cheese has a very mild, slightly tart flavor that does mimic that of ricotta.
However, it also has a very unique “goat flavor” that makes a huge difference and can be described as gamey by some.
Goat’s cheese has a unique flavor that isn’t for everyone, although we must say, when used correctly in a recipe that is balanced well, it is barely noticeable!
This cheese does come in many forms, usually a long log, and is also often flavored or has a coating. This of course can be used to add flavor, but if you’re new to this type of cheese, use the plain version first.
Mascarpone is one of our favorite cheeses due to its versatility. Not only is it very often used in recipes, but it is also the perfect substitute for almost any soft cheese, both in savory and sweet recipes.
This Italian cheese is a close cousin of cream cheese, the main difference being the ratios of the ingredients used. This results in a richer, creamier product than cream cheese.
Compared to ricotta, it has a slightly more tart flavor, so only use it in strongly-flavored lasagna recipes to balance out that element.
As with cream cheese, it has a much denser consistency compared to ricotta, so will have to be thinned in some way.
You can also thin it with more cream, or add less egg to the mixture.
Tofu is a vegan meat substitute made from soy milk that can also be a substitute for cheese or eggs.
The process of making tofu is similar to soft cheeses, but instead of the coagulated soy milk being strained, it is instead pressed to form the curds.
It comes in white blocks but still comes in a variety of consistencies, from silken, soft, firm, or extra firm.
As a substitute for ricotta in lasagna, choose the silken or soft version that resembles ricotta the best. Ordinary tofu is much too dense and tough to be a good substitute.
You may need to blend the tofu slightly before using it as a ricotta substitute in lasagna, but only if it is too firm to be used as-is.
Tofu is a great substitute if you are lactose intolerant or if you are making a vegetarian or vegan lasagna. It is very healthy and has a neutral flavor that will easily blend in with the rest of the ingredients.
Getting to the ingredients that are more difficult to find, paneer is the best of them. It is also very often referred to as Indian cottage cheese.
This is because it is literally produced in the same manner as cottage cheese. The biggest and often only difference is that it is cooked at a higher temperature and then pressed, instead of being strained and hanged.
The added pressure helps release the excess whey. This method of making cheese also results in a much firmer, drier cheese. However, paneer isn’t pressed long enough to dry it out, only to make it firm.
Paneer doesn’t have the same consistency as ricotta, so you will have to blend, crumble or chop it like you would tofu – it depends on its consistency.
You do not have to add an egg to paneer for lasagna, although the egg does help add richness.
This soft cheese has a very neutral flavor and is a great substitute if you can get your hands on it. You will probably be able to find it in stores, but it is not as readily available compared to other cheeses.
You can however make your own paneer, just like you would cottage cheese.
If you’re interested in paneer, we have a whole other article dedicated to discussing the difference between cheese and paneer.
7. Fromage Blanc
You might have heard of this fresh French cheese, or you might have no idea what we’re talking about. This is a yogurt-based cheese with a very buttery, fresh, and slightly tangy flavor.
It is made exactly like ricotta and cottage cheese, only yogurt is used as the base ingredient instead of milk. It has a very smooth, spreadable consistency, like cream cheese.
When it comes to substituting it with ricotta in lasagna, it isn’t a bad choice, as it doesn’t become runny when heated or cooked. You do not necessarily have to add eggs unless you want a much thicker sauce.
The main problem with this fantastic cheese is its availability. This isn’t an ingredient you will find easily, but we recommend trying it if you do.
Luckily, it is very easy to make Fromage blanc at home if you have the correct ingredients and cultivars, which are more accessible.
8. Béchamel Cheese Sauce
So, technically this isn’t a cheese substitute, although there is cheese in it. Béchamel sauce, or white sauce, is a classic French sauce.
Using a white sauce instead of the traditional ricotta-egg mixture is actually extremely popular in lots of other countries, even preferred.
Béchamel sauce with some added cheddar to thicken it and add extra cheesiness is a great substitute for ricotta in lasagna. It adds a ton of creaminess, a silky-smooth texture, and an incredibly neutral, but flavorful element.
The consistency of the sauce can easily be adjusted from water-thin to custard-thick, and you can season it virtually any way you’d like.
Next time you are making lasagna and missing a few ingredients, go have a look at some white sauce-based lasagna recipes – they’re a game-changer!
And, if at some point you do have some ricotta laying around again, take a look at our delicious recipe for lasagna with Béchamel and ricotta.
Up Next: How To Cook Frozen Lasagna Faster
In Europe, lasagne is made with a bechamel. That’s it.