Ricotta is an expensive ingredient with a short shelf-life, making it inconvenient and sometimes inaccessible. With a small amount in the freezer, you can work this Italian specialty into cakes and pastas with very little planning.
Ricotta cheese can be frozen, but it is essential to understand how the texture and density will change. Below we've outline the keys to freezing, storing and thawing ricotta cheese for ultimate flavor/texture preservation.
Should you Freeze Ricotta Cheese?
Is it Worth It?
While most cheeses last for weeks or months in the refrigerator, ricotta deteriorates very quickly. Because they are fermented products, their own symbiotic bacterial cultures inhibit spoilage bacteria, keeping the cheese edible for months. Ricotta is a fresh cheese, meaning that its curd forms by the addition of an external acid rather than by a bacteria.
The liquids drain away, leaving behind tiny, sand-like grains which, when compacted, are known as ricotta cheese. Delicious when fresh, they are also a rich medium for spoilage bacteria and have no symbiotic culture of their own to fight off putrefaction.
While some manufacturers may add preservatives, ricotta cheese only lasts up to a week. Many people find that it starts to turn pink as it gets old; this is indicative of a surface contaminant called Thermus thermophilus that produces lycopene as a byproduct-- the same phytochemical that makes tomatoes red!
Though it won’t hurt you to eat it, the pink color indicates that your ricotta is likely playing host to several other spoilage organisms.
Flavor and Textural Changes
Freezing ricotta for up to two months leaves its flavor untouched. After that, you may begin to notice the flat, disappointing cardboard notes of lipid oxidation.
The texture of ricotta is immediately affected by freezing. Its small proteinaceous curds separate from the liquid whey, emphasizing a grainy mouthfeel and losing some of the smoothness that makes it famous.
Because part of the liquids cluster into ice crystals and must be drained away when they melt, thawed ricotta is often drier and does not confer the same moisture to recipes as its fresh counterpart.
In reality, the differences are hardly noticeable in cooked or heated applications, especially when you pair ricotta with emulsifiers and fatty, high-moisture ingredients like eggs, cream, or different cheeses.
However, avoid using frozen ricotta in recipes where the texture is prominent (such as cheesecake) or where ricotta is the main component (cannoli filling).
How to Properly Freeze Ricotta Cheese
To properly freeze ricotta, you should first remove excess whey. Whey is almost entirely water, and this water will turn into ice, which expands upon freezing, pushing against the delicate protein structure of the cheese.
Ricotta is composed of small, high-surface-area curds that are particularly susceptible to cleavage, meaning that they break and dry out readily. Using a spoon or a stack of paper towels, press on the cheese. Stop when no more whey drips out. Then, stir your ricotta to homogenize the texture just before packing it into airtight containers or bags.
Because ricotta should never be refrozen, it is best to freeze it in small quantities. Dropping spoonfuls of ricotta onto squares of plastic wrap, twisting the square shut to push the air out, and then placing a twist of plastic wrap into a plastic bag works well.
Unopened containers of ricotta can be frozen in their original packaging. In any case, mark the containers with the date so you can throw them out after two months.
How to Thaw Frozen Ricotta
Always defrost frozen ricotta in the fridge. If you're in a hurry, you can place it in a bowl of cold water inside the refrigerator. Because water has a higher heat transfer coefficient than air, it will thaw your ricotta cheese more efficiently.
You should never thaw ricotta at room temperature. As a fresh milk product, ricotta contains numerous spoilage bacteria, and freezing makes it an even more nutrient-dense medium for these organisms; left at room temperature, they will quickly take over.
When the ricotta has fully defrosted, pour off any whey that has separated from the solids, then use a spoon to stir and fluff the remaining curd.
Use ricotta within two days of thawing it. Under no circumstances should you refreeze thawed ricotta! It would be a significant food safety concern as well as a problematic quality issue.
Uses for Frozen Ricotta Cheese
Use defrosted ricotta only in dishes that will apply heat. In this way, the fats will melt, giving the illusion of higher moisture, and the texture changes will be less noticeable.
Do Not Use Frozen Ricotta With...
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Can you freeze ricotta cheese mixtures, including pasta fillings?
Yes, you can; ricotta pasta fillings typically contain several other ingredients, including eggs, which act as emulsifiers and binders to hold the solids and liquids together.
Frozen ricotta fillings may partially separate, as some large ice crystals form and then thaw, but it will not be as noticeable as with plain ricotta cheese. Simply drain away any liquid that separates from the filling, give it a good stir, and then use it like you normally would.
Can you freeze ricotta cheese with egg in it?
Yes. The egg helps ricotta cheese stay together, and it is safe to freeze both the cheese and the egg. Keep it airtight in the freezer, and don’t keep it frozen for more than two months.
How long can you freeze ricotta cheese?
It’s probably best not to freeze it for more than two months. If you really need to freeze it for more than a month or two, it will not become unsafe, but the flavor may start to change. Make sure it is wrapped well and truly airtight--over time, fat oxidation will negatively affect the taste.
Can you freeze ricotta cheese lasagna?
It is certainly safe to do this, but it will be difficult to regain the lasagna’s original texture. Because ricotta cheese separates when frozen, it needs a vigorous stir upon thawing. Stirring would be very difficult to do in between layers of lasagna!
Smooth, creamy ricotta can improve many recipes, from cookies to pierogies. Follow the guidelines above to keep a little on hand, and it just might make you a more creative cook!
If you have any questions, leave a comment below.