Ricotta Salata by Rebecca Siegel

Every industry and every hobby has its fair share of jargon and lingo. In the case of food and cooking, even if you don’t consider yourself any sort of culinary expert, you’re going to come across all kinds of terms that are commonly confused. A couple of months ago, we discussed the misconception about prunes and plums, for example.

But what about cheese? More specifically, is there a difference between ricotta and cottage cheese?

Both ricotta and cottage cheese are fresh cheeses with a mild flavor and a soft consistency. In a grocery store, both are typically sold in a white plastic tub and, depending on the recipe, they can sometimes be used interchangeably. However, particularly in recipes where texture plays a vital role (like cheesecake), you probably don’t want to swap one for the other. Using cottage cheese can make the end result “runnier” than if you used a drier ricotta.

The key points for differentiating between the two are as follows:


  • Made with whey from the cheese-making process
  • Literally translates from Italian to mean “recooked”
  • Mild sweet flavor
  • Usually has a finer, grainier texture

Cottage Cheese:

  • Made with curds from the cheese-making process
  • More liquid content
  • Fewer calories than ricotta (about half)
  • Milder in flavor
  • Lumpier in texture

As you may or may not already know, thanks in part to the “Little Miss Muffet” nursery rhyme, curds and whey are byproducts from the production of cheese. Curds are the soft white “chunks” (they’re what you find in traditional poutine), while whey is the yellowish liquid. Despite its watery and almost transparent appearance, whey tastes practically the same as the milk from which it was formed.

Remember that “cottage cheese” and “curds” both start with the letter “C.” By process of elimination, you can then remember that ricotta is made with whey. And by extension, you can then extrapolate that ricotta is finer (since it’s made from liquid whey), while cottage cheese is lumpier (since it’s made from “chunky” curds).

When cooking at home, do you have a favorite recipe involving ricotta or cottage cheese? Is it in a dessert? In the layers of lasagna? Something else entirely?