whey ricotta

I’ve tried to make ricotta a number of times since Daisy freshened, both from whey and from milk, and I’ve failed miserably every time. I’m not sure how I messed up with the milk ricotta since I already have a recipe for easy-peasy high-yield milk ricotta on this blog, but with the whey ricotta, I didn’t really expect to succeed. I knew that ricotta made from whey didn’t yield much, and I figured the four-fivegallons of whey would probably not give enough cheese to really matter. The couple times I tried making it, I got only a tablespoon or so of curd, but it was so silty it was impossible to scoop and not worth the hassle of draining through a bag. Which confirmed what I already thought: whey ricotta was for the birds.

But then when I went to our cheesemaking meeting, our host was in the middle of draining ricotta that she’d made from a batch of whey, and she served us whey ricotta, too. It was delicious. 

So I quizzed her up one side and down the other and then I went home and did it exactly as she said: Bring the whey almost to a boil, and when you see some curds floating to the top, stir in some vinegar, cut the heat, clap on a lid, and let it rest a bit before scooping out the ricotta.

Actually, I don’t think that’s exactly how she does it since she was straining it through a cheesecloth, but that’s how I do it. (I did try to strain it through a cheesecloth once. It took forever and made a huge mess. Never again.) 

for illustration purposes — not a recommendation

Anyway, I’ve been stunned at how much ricotta I’ve been getting. For every four gallons of whey, I get anywhere from one to two pounds of the stuff.

It’s way (haha) more than I can use, so I’ve been wrapping the blocks of cheese in plastic and stashing them in the freezer. The thawed ricotta won’t be as good as fresh, but it’ll be perfectly fine in baked lasagnas, quiches, pancakes and the like. (Supper tonight: lasagna with homemade ricotta, mozzarella, cottage cheese, Belper Knolle, salty halloumi, and a few scraps of Cobly. ALSO: our grass-fed beef and canned tomato sauce. Why yes, m’dear, I AM feeling a smidge red hennish.)

Usually I leave my ricotta plain, but I have dry salted it, too, a là some of the aged cheese recipes (and I think ricotta salata involves a variation of this method).

I imagine it could also be treated a lot like yogurt cheese: just stir in some salt and then hang the cheese in a cheesecloth overnight before shaping the curd into balls. In other words, ricotta is flexible. Do with it what you want.

Making ricotta is yet another step in an already clunky process — and it makes more mess, what with the kettles and pans and such — but now that I know how much ricotta I can get from that “junk” whey, it feels criminal to waste it. I mean, just think how much ricotta I’d have in my freezer if I’d been doing this all along! Dozens of pounds of the stuff, probably.

Whey Ricotta

The term “whey ricotta” is redundant, I suppose, since ricotta means cheese made from whey, but because people do make ricotta from whole milk, I’m differentiating.

I don’t measure anything; these are estimates.  

3-4 gallons of fresh whey
⅓ cup white vinegar

Heat the whey on high heat. When it starts to look foamy on top (around 175 degrees, usually), remove the lid and keep an eye on it. At about 185-190 degrees, little bits of curd will begin to float to the surface making the top cloudy and frothy. Right around 190 degrees, stir in the vinegar. Remove the spoon and watch closely: larger chunks of curd should rise to the surface and begin clumping together, forming a cap on the whey. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and let rest for 3-5 minutes. 

Using a slotted spoon (with small holes), ladle the curd into ricotta molds — or plastic containers that have holes poked into them, or into a fine bowl-shaped sieve, etc — set in a sided pan. The whey will run out of the holes and the curd will stay in the cups. Keep scooping and filling until the cups are filled to the brim and there’s no more ricotta in the pot. (Actually, there’s always ricotta left in the pot but it’s too fine to scoop — if you want to get all of it, dump the whey and curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander set in the sink.)

Let the cups of ricotta sit in the pan of hot whey at room temperature for about an hour. The curds will gradually settle, expelling more of the whey. Transfer the cups to a clean plate and place in the fridge to cool for a few hours or a day or so. Dump the whey. 

The next day, flip the ricotta out of the molds. At this point, there are several options: 1) eat fresh, unsalted, 2) stir in some salt, fresh herbs, etc and serve, 3) bake with it, or 4) wrap it in plastic, bag, and freeze (and then bake with it). 

This same time, years previous: millionaire’s pie, Friday fun: books and movies, in the sweet kitchen, the quotidian (12.1.14), nanny-sitting, Thanksgiving of 2013, sushi!!!, Friday variety, everything else.


  • Ines

    I’m still confused about the whey. Is this the whey that produced a batch of ricotta already and you are reheating and adding more vinegar? I love ricotta and would like to use the techniques that you use to produce the most out of milk.
    Also, can ricotta be frozen without affecting the texture of the cheese?

    • Jennifer Jo

      1. To make ricotta, I use whey leftover from making a wheel of cheese, such as gouda or romano, that’s been made with a culture, either mesophilic or thermophilic.
      2. Whey that is leftover from making ricotta goes to the pigs (or you could use it in baking, I suppose).
      3. Ricotta that is frozen does have a slight texture change but it’s indecipherable if using the frozen ricotta in baking. If eating ricotta fresh, don’t freeze it first.

      I hope that helps!!

  • Therease A Hahn

    Hi, I’m wondering if the whey is from clambering milk or making cottage cheese or straining yogurt or ? Does it make a difference if the whey has been previously heated? If so, how hot was too hot to use it for ricotta?

    • Jennifer Jo

      I don’t remember what kind of cheese I was making, but I’ve made ricotta with whey from all types of meso/thermophilic cheeses. The curds are cooked, so the whey was heated before — sometimes as high as 120 degrees — but the process for ricotta takes it much higher. (Make sure to use fresh whey that’s only a couple hours old…)

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