How To Make Ricotta from Whey Produced by Straining Yogurt

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Sneak Preview: Discover how to make ricotta from whey leftover from the process of straining yogurt to make Greek yogurt. Whey gives ricotta the perfect flavor.

HOMEMADE RICOTTA CHEESE USING WHEY DRAINED FROM YOGURT

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Are you a Greek yogurt maker with lots of whey on your hands? Then, making ricotta cheese is a practical idea for using the whey from straining regular yogurt.

Save yourself a last-minute trip to the store the next time you get hungry for lasagna. It’s one reason I always keep a quart of whey from my latest batch of yogurt in the fridge.

Not a yogurt maker? Substitute buttermilk for the whey.

Homemade recipes typically call for lemon juice or vinegar to make ricotta. However, using yogurt whey creates a neutrally-flavored cheese perfect for any recipe.

How is yogurt whey different from the whey leftover from making cheese?

Traditional ricotta cheese involves boiling whey leftover from making cheese. It’s called “sweet whey.”

Whey drained from yogurt is called “acid whey.” Unlike sweet whey, most of the protein is removed from the whey in the yogurt-making process.

yogurt with whey strained off in bowl below

Why the difference matters:

A massive amount of yogurt whey is required to produce a minuscule amount of ricotta by simply boiling the whey.

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To make ricotta with yogurt whey, we add whole milk or 2% milk. Or, to put it more accurately, we add whey to milk so the whey can act on the protein in the milk.

Can I use yogurt whey as a substitute for vinegar or lemon juice?

Recipes for homemade ricotta cheese often call for lemon juice or vinegar to separate the curds from the whey. This method/recipe uses yogurt whey instead.

Lemon juice is appropriate for ricotta you want to use in a dessert or a recipe with sugar. Vinegar is better for a savory dish like lasagna.

The good thing about yogurt whey is that it produces neutral-flavored ricotta. Use it for savory or sweet recipes. You can substitute buttermilk if you don’t have yogurt whey available.

microwave-safe bowl, milk and yogurt whey

Why does this recipe produce even more whey?

The recipe calls for a half-gallon of milk and 2 cups of yogurt whey that yields about 1-1/4 cup of curds, aka ricotta cheese. The liquid leftover from the process is still whey.

At this point, I throw out the leftover whey. I’ve heard that animals like it but can’t speak from personal experience on that one.

Using a microwave vs. stovetop to heat the milk:

milk mixture n the microwave

I’m a microwave person, so I always choose the microwave when possible. For me, it’s faster, easier to clean up, and there is no risk of scorching.

On the other hand, heating the milk and whey on top of the stove is perfectly doable. However, be careful not to let the milk boil over, or you will have a mess on your hands.

How to make ricotta using yogurt whey:

It’s simple. Grab a half-gallon of whole or 2% milk along with a couple of cups of whey you’ve saved from making Greek yogurt.

Whisk together in a saucepan and heat on the stove or in a microwave without stirring.

measuring the temperature of the milk (showing separation) with a quick-read thermomether

As the milk mixture heats, you will see the milk begin to curdle and separate into curds and whey. (Watch out for spiders!) 🙀

Remove from the stove when the temperature reaches 180-190˚F. Allow the mixture to sit for 15 minutes.

3 ways to separate the curds from the whey:

#1

Use a fine-mesh strainer

Use a slotted spoon to remove curds to a fine-mesh strainer. Let the ricotta drain to your preferred dryness. Season with a pinch of salt. Easy. Right?

separating the curds using a slotted spoon and fine-mesh strainer

Separate the curds from the whey using a fine-mesh strainer.

straining excess whey from cheese with fine-mesh strainer

See the ricotta cheese inside the fine-mesh strainer.

#2

Use a nutbag or yogurt pouch.

using a yogurt pouch to strain curds to make ricotta

#3

Line a cheap colander with 3-4 layers of cheesecloth.

You could also cover a colander with a thin cotton t-shirt (a spotless one, of course).

TIP: Don’t pour all of the curds and whey into the colander at once.

I tried this–once. The tiny curds quickly clogged up the system. It took forever to separate the curds from the whey.

Also, the big chunks of curd fell apart.

Get a slotted spoon or small strainer (like a tea strainer) and carefully dip out the curds. You want to leave most of the whey in the original container.

How long should I strain my ricotta?

Strain the whey out of the curds until they are as dry or moist as you prefer. It doesn’t take long. Maybe 15-30 minutes.

If your ricotta drains a little too long or you are just feeling decadent, stir in a little heavy cream. YUM!

yogurt crash course signup

How do I store homemade ricotta cheese?

Store in a glass bowl or jar in the refrigerator for 4-7 days. If you are a vacuum-sealer (you know who you are), vacuum-pack the finished ricotta in a Mason jar and double the storage time to approximately two weeks.

If you like, freeze ricotta in a plastic container or bag.

Homemade Ricotta--storing in vacuum pack jar

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Did you enjoy this recipe? If so, leave a rating 🤩 inside the recipe below. No comment required. If you have any questions or suggestions, email me privately: Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! Paula


How To Make Fresh Ricotta from Yogurt Whey

Learn how to make ricotta cheese using the whey gathered from straining yogurt.
5 from 63 votes
Prep Time 40 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Making Yogurt
Servings 7

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whey drained from making Greek yogurt - drained from making Greek yogurt
  • ½ gallon milk - whole or 2%
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Instructions
 

  • Stir the milk and whey together in a large saucepan.
  • Heat on stove to 180˚F. Milk will curdle.
  • Remove from the stove and allow it to stand for 10-15 minutes.
  • Gently retrieve curds from pan using a slotted spoon and place it into a fine-mesh strainer or use whatever strainer you have, lined with two layers of cheesecloth.
  • When curds have drained to your preferred dryness, store in a glass or plastic jar up to 4-7 days.

Video

Notes

Making Ricotta Cheese in a Microwave:
  • Stir the milk, whey, and salt together in a microwave-safe container.
  • Heat on HIGH for 18-20 minutes or until mixture reaches 180-190 degrees. (This is just a starting point. Microwave ovens vary hugely. Best to use a thermometer until you figure out how long it takes.) Don’t stir.
  • Proceed with step 3 above.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
How To Make Fresh Ricotta from Yogurt Whey
Serving Size
 
0.25 cup
Amount per Serving
Calories
 
85
Calories from Fat 45
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
5
g
8
%
Saturated Fat
 
3
g
19
%
Polyunsaturated Fat
 
1
g
Cholesterol
 
19
mg
6
%
Sodium
 
77
mg
3
%
Carbohydrates
 
3
g
1
%
Sugar
 
1
g
1
%
Protein
 
7
g
14
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Author: Paula Rhodes
Course: Making Yogurt
Cuisine: American
Keywords: Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese, things to do with yogurt whey, whey

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Recipe Rating




69 Comments

  1. Can’t wait to try this!! I knew there was a reason my job was cancelled today!! Thanks, Paula, for all you do!

  2. threequeensmom says:

    lol…now I know why this recipe didn’t work for me before… I never saw that you had to mix the whey with MILK! 🙂 Thank you!!

    1. Hi Threequeensmom,
      I’ve never seen it anywhere myself. I just knew that boiling the whey by itself did not produce enough ricotta to make it worth it. Not even close. People had told me it worked–but it didn’t for me. So since whey and buttermilk are often interchangeable and many people make ricotta with buttermilk and milk I decided to try substituting whey for the buttermilk and it worked. EUREKA! And besides being fresh, it costs about half what you would pay for ricotta in the store if you count the whey as free.

  3. Actually, I’ve made very nice ricotta from heating milk with a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice (an acidifier) and following same procedure.

    The whey left over from the Greek-style yogurt-draining process is an acidifier causing the proteins to coagulate and separate. No reason not to use whey – especially if it’s already in your fridge – but you do end up with MORE whey – and it can take up a lot of space.

    1. Yes, Nancy, You are absolutely right. I have made it with lemon juice myself. But for those of us who make lots of Greek yogurt, whey is easier to come by than lemons or buttermilk. I throw the whey from making ricotta away (or over my acid-loving plants.) My Greek yogurt easily generates half a gallon or more of whey every week so you can see how I am quickly overrun with the stuff if I were to keep it all.

      Thanks for writing. Most people don’t make their own Greek yogurt so it’s nice to have anther alternative.

  4. I also end up with a lot of whey post-yogurt straining and was wondering if I could freeze it to make some ricotta when I need it.

    1. Karen,
      Yes, you may freeze whey. It will keep for at least a month just in the refrigerator.

  5. Jack Monty says:

    Hey Paula,
    That’s a nice looking ricotta, has it tempted you to have a go at making other cheeses? It’s not as hard as most people think and very rewarding!
    Cheers,
    Jack

  6. I make ricotta all the time, but with much less effort than this (great way to use up whey though!). Simply bring a pot of milk to just below boiling tmep, when hot enough, turn off heat and drizzle over the surface of the milk 50ml (per 1 litre of milk heated) of plain white vinegar. Leave for about 30 mins, and you find the curd seperates beautifully! Simply scoop out the ricotta from the milk with a slotted spoon. Ta daaaaa! 🙂

    1. Hi Dimity,
      Yes, your method works great, as you know. My method is no more trouble IF…you already have the whey, which many of us do who make Greek yogurt. Thanks for writing.

      1. A. Rogers says:

        Thanks for this… I have made this w/the vinegar method and never thought to use whey… which we always have due to yoghurt making… I use it for soaking grains and mix with broth when cooking grains and soups but I love the idea of being able to make the cheese with it. We are getting goats as well and will be make yoghurt and cheese with that milk. Do you know if apple cider vinegar would work as well? We have an apple orchard and I started making my own which came out very nicely but didn’t know if would work in this application. thanks

  7. Home made is so much better than store bought! I’d love to try making my own cheese- you make it sound so easy! 🙂

  8. Can’t wait to try this. Is it possible to use fat-free or 1% milk, or is more fat necessary for the cheese making process? I use fat-free milk (sometimes 1%) to make the yogurt.

    1. Caroline,
      I tried this with my favorite fat-free milk and it was not so good—a little chewy. May try again in the future but my first attempt wasn’t great.

  9. cheesy cow says:

    This is NOT Ricotta! (your title is mis
    Hi ther
    Ricotta cheese is made with whey (as the main ingredient) left over from the production of other cheese. In this case you are using whey to acidify whole milk.

    have a look at
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricotta

  10. Can I keep the whey leftover from making ricotta? Will it still be useful? I want to use it to make some sauerkraut.

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Not sure. I haven’t tried it. Let me know if you do.

  11. Thanks again for another great recipe! I tried this with some leftover whey from making your Greek yogurt and it turned out great and only cost me £1, a third of what it would cost me to make my lasagne. I have also been using the leftover whey by adding it to my fresh fruit and veggie juices that I make every day. The pro-biotics in the whey seem to assist with the lack of fiber and you can’t even taste it. I hate waste. Thanks again! 🙂

  12. Marilyn Z says:

    Love this site…I don’t know how you gals have the time to do all that you do.

    One part of the Greek yogurt process I hated was the heating of the milk and then the cooling down. I found that by adding powdered milk, you are increasing the protein enough that you don’t have to bother with the rest of that. About half a cup of powdered to one quart or even 5 cups of milk.

    1. Hi Marilyn, Great idea if you don’t mind the slightly different taste and texture you get with the powdered milk. Glad you found a way to do it that works for you.

  13. Uh huh…. this didn’t exactly get rid of the whey left from making Greek yogurt. After starting with 8 cups of milk (1/2 gal) and 2 cups of whey, one ends up with the close-to-but-not-quite-yet-useful ricotta-type cheese…..and 3+ cups of whey!

  14. So right about trying to do the whey from yogurt on its own, not enough protein to be worthwhile 🙂

  15. Hi, I’d like to try this as we always have lots of whey left over after clabbering raw whole milk. However, I’d also use raw milk to make ricotta – to preserve the live bacteria and enzymes – so is it necessary to heat raw milk to 180F or would 100F suffice?

  16. I started making yogurt according to the instructions, first heating 8 cups of milk then letting it cool. I have found that using nonfat, Store bought milk, can be used right from the refrigerator no heating necessary I stir in 1/4 cup starter yogurt set the yogurt machine for 12 hours and it is done. The yogurt comes out so creamy and good. If I strain the yogurt 12 to 14 hours it is thick and creamy no tartness, you can eat it with a spoon right after straining.

  17. I have tried several recipes to make ricotta from whey and this is by far the best and easiest. I have made it several times and last night I made a mistake. I accidentally left the mix on the stove once while I went to grab a pan from the garage. By the time I came back in the mix was boiling (and popping due to the curds) and far about the 180 degrees called for. I removed the pan and scooped the contents into my yogurt bag and the cheese was just as good as any other time I made the ricotta. I would not recommend forgetting your mix and letting it boil or get too hot but it is nice to know that should “life happen” this method is forgiving. Thank you for sharing!

  18. I like this simple way of making ricotta from leftover whey. Mine didn’t yield 2 cups of ricotta, maybe half of that. Can you tell me if my whey isn’t acidic enough; other explanations? Any help you can give me would be appreciated.

    1. Lenna,
      Thanks for writing. The two cups is not right. My mistake. I usually get around 1-1/4 cup of ricotta cheese with this method. It can vary some according to whether you use 2% or whole milk. If there is a difference in acidity from one batch of whey to the next, I don’t know it.

  19. 5 stars
    OMG! I love this! So easy and you get a delicious ricotta! I just love being able to make Greek Yogurt and then use the by product to get something so tasty. I used 1% milk and it turned out great. Two for one! Thanks for the great recipe and directions!

  20. Can the left over whey from this project then be used to make the Norwegian brown cheese? Your other recipes say yogurt whey is not good to use for this as it gets too sour/not enough protein left in it. I love the idea of using my yogurt whey to make ricotta and then use that whey to make the Norwegian brown cheese (can’t remember how to spell the name of it sorry)

    1. Janette,
      I don’t think so. I’m quoting from this website: “Whey from yoghurt making is not very suitable for brown cheese, as the bacteria in the yoghurt culture digest most, if not all, of the lactose in the whey.”

  21. Hi. At the end, I will still end up with more whey? Thanks.

    1. Unfortunately, yes. Whey is merely a substitute for lemon juice or vinegar.

  22. Terri Baker says:

    I am a home cheese maker. Whey must be used for ricotta within 3 hours of collection, is that true with yogurt whey also? If I make ricotta and I’m not getting much curd, I add a couple tablespoons of vinegar.

    1. Hi Terri,
      Whey from yogurt is completely different from the whey you get from making cheese. You must start with milk to make ricotta from yogurt-whey. Yogurt-whey serves the same purpose as lemon juice or vinegar in making ricotta from milk.

  23. Kristina Shade says:

    5 stars
    This recipe made wonderfully creamy and fluffy- ish ricotta . Thank you

  24. Jorge Quesada says:

    It does work very well. Thanks soo much for the recipe!
    Greetings from Costa Rica

  25. This is a great recipe and you explained everything, so it all makes sense. Other recipes for ricotta from yogurt whey call for vinegar or lemon juice, so I really appreciate that you explain here that the yogurt whey is already acidic.

    Followed your instructions and it worked! We had ricotta cheese!

    AND I accidentally discovered something important – since I finished this ricotta process at night, I left all the remaining whey in the stockpot overnight. In the morning I took it out and started to pour it on my plants — and to my surprise ricotta cheese curds poured out too! There was a whole bunch of ricotta cheese in there! So this keeps making whey if you leave it for longer. I’m on my second batch now and took out all the cheese with a slotted spoon, and now I’m going to leave the leftover whey sitting in the stockpot overnight, so I’ll get more ricotta!

    Thank you for this page.

    1. Sorry – typo above and no edit function
      * So this keeps making ricotta cheese if you leave it for longer…

  26. Miguel Pérez says:

    Today I made made this but it just didn’t work for me. I used the whey from yesterday’s yogurt, and when I was heating the milk mixed with the whey, it just didn’t curdle.
    To fix it I added 5tbsp of vinegar and the curdles formes right away.
    Do you have any explanation for this?

    1. Hi Miguel, Evidently, your milk needed more “acid” to start the curdling process. Just add more whey until it starts to curdle. It’s sometimes difficult to specify exact measurements because the whey made from homemade yogurt is going to be a moving target because of all the variables involved.

  27. Can I freeze some yogurt whey to use as a starter?

    1. I have frozen yogurt to use as starter but never yogurt whey. Seems like it would work but can’t say for sure.

  28. Kim Turcotte says:

    Is there anything more I can do with the leftover liquid from making the ricotta? It seems like a lot of liquid leftover.

    1. Yes, Kim. I agree. It’s a lot. Have you already read this post about 18 Ways to Use Whey, a By-Product of Greek Yogurt My only suggestions would be smoothies or to use in baking like buttermilk. Even then, you don’t need much. I’m told that animals like it. Some plants like it. For example, acid-loving hydrangeas. Hope your cheese was good.

    2. Kim Turcotte says:

      @Paula,
      Awewsome thank you for this info as I just planted some blueberries and they need acidic soil so I may just use it in that way.

  29. 5 stars
    This is a fantastic way to use up my leftover whey from yogurt making. I made it in the instant pot – yogurt setting followed by sautés. Worked fantastic. Only comment is that I wish I had added the salt to the milk/whey before the curds formed. Thanks for the great recipe!
    If anyone is looking for another way to use up some yogurt whey – try making it in Peasant Bread from Alexandra’s Kitchen. SOOOO good, and you can eat it with the ricotta!!!!!

  30. Thank you for your directions. Worked out great for a not so great batch of yogurt that I ended I with lots of leftover whey. Much appreciation!

    1. @Jan, p.s. I will use the leftover whey to replace liquid when making bread, and pizza dough. Thanks again!

    2. Hi Jan, Glad the ricotta worked for you. And using that liquid to make bread is always a good idea. Did you know you can make and maintain sourdough starter with whey, too? Works really great. The directions are at the end of this post. 18

  31. Liz Summers says:

    I have always made ricotta with milk and buttermilk, but I started making yogurt recently and wanted to make ricotta but did not have buttermilk. Short story, this worked wonderfully for me! I made it stovetop and the curds looked wonderful … draining/drying now. I see in other comments that people use the ricotta whey in bread, as do I (sourdough). I also pour it on plants if I don’t need it all for bread AND my dog LOVES the whey … LOVES it!! My cat will slurp some also. And a neighbor with chickens will take any for them.

    1. Sounds like you have all kinds of help using up your whey. So happy the ricotta worked out for you. Having that recipe has saved me a trip to the store several times when I had a sudden craving for lasagna.

    2. Liz Summers says:

      @Paula, the final ricotta is wonderful! I am making stuffed shells and a small lasagna. I found out that my dog liked the whey when I poured some (a lot!) around lilac bushes and he immediately began lapping it up dirt and all 🙂

      1. Oh my! I guess it’s true what everybody says that animals love it.

  32. When do you add the salt?

    1. @Waynonda, Never mind. Wish it was indicated in the recipe’s written directions. I have added it to my liquid from the get go. Fingers crossed. First time making ricotta. Thank you for sharing the recipe, I have been searching for a good use of my yogurt whey.

      1. Hi Waynonda,
        I’m sorry the directions for the salt were missing. I have added it. Salt is actually optional, but adding it at the beginning with the whey is what I do. Thanks very much for letting me know so I could fix this.