Why You Should Skip Ricotta Cheese From The Grocery Store

There are certainly times when the convenient option is the right one. For example, you can pick up delicious, fresh apples from the grocery store instead of a local orchard without noticeably sacrificing quality or paying more for your fruit. There are times, though, when a little extra time in the kitchen will have dramatic results in terms of flavor and sometimes in terms of cost. Take pre-grated cheese; DIY cheese grating both saves you money and avoids the preservatives in pre-grated cheese that can mess up your recipes.

But making your own cheese may be a bridge too far for most home cooks. It can require unfamiliar ingredients like rennet, calcium chloride, a mesophilic starter culture, lipase, and a whole lot of patience, according to The Cheesemaker. For most of us, the juice isn't worth the squeeze — unless you're talking about ricotta cheese. If you weigh all the factors (time, quality, and cost), there's definitely a hard-to-refute argument for making it yourself.

Store-bought ricotta usually cuts corners

Making ricotta at home takes just minutes, and all you need is whole milk, kosher salt, and lemon juice. Is there a big difference between homemade and store-bought? You betcha. Part of the process of making ricotta involves draining the curds (the yummy part you eat) of the excess water they contain. Serious Eats explains that most store-bought ricotta skips the draining step, relying instead on gums and stabilizers that firm up the cheese without removing the water, resulting in a much less satisfying flavor and texture.

Some commercially available brands don't contain gums or stabilizers, which means they're better than brands that do. However, Serious Eats points out that making ricotta yourself is so quick, inexpensive, and easy, it makes little sense to settle for any brand of store-bought ricotta. The Cheese Professor agrees, saying "homemade ricotta, when made well, is a revelation," adding that it's simultaneously lighter, sturdier, and fresher than anything you can buy in a store. 

While your homemade ricotta will certainly elevate your lasagna, it doesn't have to be relegated to a supporting role. Fresh-made ricotta can shine in flavorful dips or co-star with heirloom tomatoes in a heavenly tart.