Are you a Greek yogurt maker with lots of whey on your hands? If so, here’s an easy 3-ingredient recipe for making Homemade Ricotta Cheese Using Whey Drained from Yogurt.
Not a yogurt maker? Substitute buttermilk for the whey.
To all of you Greek yogurt makers: This is a great idea for using up some of the whey you get 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
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How is yogurt whey different from the whey leftover from making cheese?
Traditional ricotta cheese is made by boiling whey leftover from making cheese.
However, it takes a huge amount of yogurt whey to produce a minuscule amount of ricotta by simply boiling the whey. Most of the protein is removed from the whey in the yogurt-making process, unlike the whey one collects from making cheese.
To make ricotta with yogurt whey, you must add whole milk or 2% milk to the whey.
Using 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 a neutral flavored-ricotta. Use it for savory or sweet recipes. You can substitute buttermilk if you don’t have yogurt whey available.
Why this recipe produces even more whey:
The recipe calls for a half-gallon of milk and 2 cups of yogurt whey. This will yield about 1-1/4 cup of curds, aka ricotta cheese. That means the rest will be 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.
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Using a microwave vs. stovetop to heat the milk:
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. Be careful not to let the milk boil over, or you will have a mess on your hands.
How to make ricotta cheese using whey strained from yogurt:
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 top of the stove or in a microwave without stirring.
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 degrees F. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
3 ways to separate the curds from the whey:
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?
Use a nutbag or yogurt pouch
Line a cheap colander with 3-4 layers of cheesecloth.
You could also cover a colander with a thin cotton t-shirt (a very clean one, of course).
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TIP: Don’t pour all of the curds and whey into the colander at once.
I tried this. Once. The microscopic 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 as 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!
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Storing your homemade ricotta cheese:
Store in a glass bowl or jar in the refrigerator for 4-7 days. If you are a vacuum-packer (you know who you are), vacuum-pack the finished ricotta in a Mason jar and double the storage time to approximately 2 weeks.
Homemade ricotta can also be frozen in a plastic container or bag.
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- 2 cups whey drained from making Greek yogurt
- 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Stir the milk and whey together in a large saucepan.
- Heat on stove to 180 degrees. 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.
Making Ricotta Cheese in a Microwave:
- Stir the milk and whey 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.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 20 tablespoons Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 88 Total Fat: 2g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 10mg Sodium: 64mg Carbohydrates: 6g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 5g Protein: 12g
Originally published in 2013. Updated and republished November 2019.