Ricotta vs. Cottage Cheese: What’s the Difference?

Ricotta vs. Cottage Cheese Universal
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They’re both found in round plastic containers in the dairy aisle of the grocery store and they’re both fresh and creamy, so when it comes to ricotta vs. cottage cheese, what’s the difference, exactly? Read on for the full scoop on these two popular cheeses, including everything you need to know about swapping one for the other.

What Is Ricotta
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What Is Ricotta?

Ricotta is a type of cow’s milk cheese that is made from whey, which is the liquid part of the milk that gets separated from the curds used to make most other cheeses. The whey is then boiled until the remaining curds coagulate and it thickens into a cheese. To make the fresh ricotta commonly found stateside, some cheesemakers add more milk to the whey before boiling it to increase yield. Either way, the end result is a very soft and creamy cheese with a fine curd and smooth texture. In addition to being a key component of lasagna, fresh ricotta can be added to a wide variety of recipes to achieve a creamier finished dish. It’s also found dolloped on top of pizza and is mild enough for use in desserts like cheesecake and cannoli. 

Ricotta salata, on the other hand, starts off as fresh ricotta, but is repeatedly salted and pressed to remove moisture and then aged to achieve a firmer texture and more concentrated flavor. It isn’t smooth and spreadable like fresh ricotta, but rather crumbles like feta cheese and is thus commonly found in salads or used as a finishing flavor booster in dishes like pasta alla Norma.

What Is Cottage Cheese
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What Is Cottage Cheese?

Cottage cheese is also a soft, fresh cow’s milk cheese—but, unlike ricotta, cottage cheese is made from the curd, not the whey. To make cottage cheese, an acidic agent is added to milk in order to separate the curds from the whey; the curds are then rinsed, seasoned with salt and mixed with skim milk, whole milk or cream to produce a soupy cheese with lumpy curds and a mildly savory taste. Cottage cheese is available in small, medium and large curds and is a popular low-calorie, high-protein snack that can be enjoyed on its own or incorporated into dishes like scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes for a richer finished product. (Psst: You can find some tasty cottage cheese recipes here.)

Ricotta vs. Cottage Cheese: What’s the Difference?

Ultimately, ricotta and cottage cheese are very similar. The key distinction between the two really comes down to moisture content and texture: ricotta is smooth and spreadable with extremely fine (almost imperceptible) curds, whereas the preparation of cottage cheese results in a soupy and lumpy finished product with a higher moisture content.

Can You Replace Ricotta with Cottage Cheese and Vice Versa?
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Can You Replace Ricotta with Cottage Cheese and Vice Versa?

Although ricotta and cottage cheese are very similar, the differences in texture and consistency have a considerable impact on their respective culinary uses. Ricotta can replace cottage cheese in scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes and more. As for substituting cottage cheese for ricotta—it can be done in some recipes, such as lasagna and certain other baked pasta dishes like stuffed shells, but the finished dish will be runnier; and due to its higher moisture content, cottage cheese does not make a good ricotta substitute in most baked dessert recipes. Indeed, the single most important thing to consider when deciding whether a cottage cheese swap will work is how the extra liquid will affect the dish. Though it’s worth noting that, in a pinch, you can attempt to strain and whip your cottage cheese for a more suitable ricotta substitute. Bottom line: When it comes to ricotta vs cottage cheese in the kitchen, just play around and see what works—but, ideally, only when the stakes are low.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...