Cream Cheese vs. Ricotta Cheese

Cream cheese and ricotta cheese are two of the most popular soft white cheeses.

Cream Cheese vs. Ricotta Cheese

With their mild flavors and creamy textures, they can elevate both sweet and savory dishes.

But what exactly sets them apart?

How Cream Cheese and Ricotta Are Made

The first key difference between cream cheese and ricotta lies in how they’re produced.

Cream cheese is made by curdling a mixture of milk and cream with acids like vinegar or lemon juice. The curds are then processed, stabilized with thickening agents, and packaged. This gives cream cheese its signature smooth, creamy texture.

Ricotta, on the other hand, is made by reheating the whey leftover from cheesemaking. This causes the proteins in the whey to coagulate into curds, which are collected and lightly strained. Ricotta’s name even means “recooked” in Italian, referring to this second use of the whey.

So while cream cheese is the main event, ricotta is more of a delicious byproduct of other cheeses!

Key Takeaway: Cream cheese is made directly by curdling milk and cream, while ricotta is produced by recooking leftover whey from other cheeses.

Nutrition and Ingredients

The ingredients used to make cream cheese and ricotta also affect their nutrition profiles.

Cream cheese is high in fat and calories since it’s made with whole milk and heavy cream. An ounce of full-fat cream cheese packs around 100 calories and 8 grams of fat. It’s also stabilized with thickening agents like carob bean gum.

Ricotta is naturally lighter, with part-skim varieties containing as little as 5 grams of fat and 170 calories per cup. Without added cream, ricotta gets its rich flavor from milk proteins rather than high fat content. Most brands use only milk, salt, and vinegar or lemon juice.

So if you’re looking to limit fat or calories, nutrient-dense ricotta can be a smart swap for decadent cream cheese. Just note that fat equals flavor in cheese, so low-fat ricotta may lack some creamy oomph.

Key Takeaway: Full-fat cream cheese is heavier and richer than ricotta, which shines with its fresh dairy flavor and lighter nutrition stats.

Texture and Taste

When it comes to flavor and mouthfeel, cream cheese and ricotta each have their pros and cons.

Cream cheese has a signature smooth, dense texture and tangy dairy flavor. It contains enough fat and moisture to spread easily without crumbling. The taste is subtly sweet, making cream cheese a versatile base for either sweet or savory dishes.

Ricotta is lighter and fluffier with a more delicate dairy flavor. Without extra fat, it can tend towards graininess, especially when cooked. But what ricotta lacks in richness, it makes up for in bright, milky flavor. Ricotta also contains more moisture, perfect for softening and moistening baked goods.

How to Substitute Cream Cheese for Ricotta

Don’t let a lack of ricotta stop you from whipping up lasagne or perfecting your cannoli filling. With a few adjustments, cream cheese makes an excellent substitution.

To swap in cream cheese for ricotta, try thinning it out with milk or yogurt. A 1:1 ratio is a good starting point. This adds moisture and makes the cream cheese easier to spread. A splash of lemon juice also mimics ricotta’s tang.

Since cream cheese offers more rich dairy flavor, also consider cutting back on other full-fat cheeses and dairy used in the dish. Otherwise, flavors may skew overly heavy rather than bright and fresh.

And because cream cheese bakes up firmer than ricotta, keep an eye on casseroles and baked pastas. Cover them with foil if browning too quickly on top. The extra richness from cream cheese means dishes bake up quicker than ricotta too.

Finally, give dishes a taste test once cooked and adjust seasonings to account for cream cheese’s higher salt levels. You may wish to incorporate more herbs, citrus, or spices to brighten overall flavor.

Replacing Cream Cheese with Ricotta

What if you have ricotta but need cream cheese? No sweat—with two key tricks, ricotta can mimic cream cheese beautifully.

First, drain excess whey from the ricotta. This thickens it to better approximate cream cheese’s dense texture. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and let ricotta drain for at least 30 minutes.

Next, beat in about 1⁄4 cup cream, cream cheese, or mascarpone per cup of drained ricotta. This adds back moisture and enriches flavor for a convincing cream cheese dupe. Additionally, lemon juice or spices like garlic can replicate cream cheese’s tang.

Beyond adjusting texture and taste, no other major changes are needed. Thanks to ricotta’s mild flavor, it takes on the qualities of whatever you blend it with. Replacing cream cheese with ricotta is an easy 1:1 swap.

Cream Cheese and Ricotta Shine in Different Dishes

Once you understand their distinct qualities, choosing between cream cheese and ricotta for recipes becomes simple.

Cream cheese reigns supreme any time you want richness, moisture, tang, spreadability, and structure:

  • Frostings and fillings
  • Cheesecakes or cream pies
  • Dips
  • Bagel schmear

Meanwhile, ricotta’s delicate dairy flavor and billowy texture make it perfect for:

  • Lasagna, manicotti, or ravioli
  • Pancakes or baked goods
  • Cannoli or other Italian desserts
  • Light spreads and dips

Make your pick based on the sensations and qualities you want the cheese to contribute. Allow ricotta and cream cheese to play to their strengths, and you’ll end up with showstopping results.


Is ricotta healthier than cream cheese?

Yes! Thanks to its lower fat and calorie content per serving, part-skim ricotta is generally healthier than full-fat cream cheese. Ricotta also contains fewer additives and more calcium.

Can you make cheesecake with ricotta instead of cream cheese?

Absolutely! You can substitute ricotta for some or all cream cheese in cheesecake. Be aware that ricotta creates a lighter, fluffier texture. Supplementing with cream or cream cheese helps approximate the classic dense cheesecake texture.

What’s the difference between mascarpone and ricotta?

Though they’re both Italian cheeses, mascarpone contains over 75% fat compared to ricotta’s 5-10%. This makes mascarpone richer, creamier, and closer to cream cheese in texture and uses. Ricotta has a drier, fluffier texture with milky flavor.


While ricotta and cream cheese share the spotlight as go-to soft cheeses, they bring distinct textures, flavors, and nutrition to the table.

Understanding how they’re produced and their unique strengths helps determine which cheese will work best in any given recipe.

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!