Whatever Happened to Cottage Cheese?

Baked Macaroni and cheese made with cottage cheese

Jennifer Meier

Cottage cheese had its heyday in the United States, but for all the wrong reasons. It was promoted as a replacement for meat (high in protein, but less expensive) and as a diet food (creamy but low-fat). Since the late 1970s, lack of marketing and lack of high-quality brands of cottage cheese have made cottage cheese one of the least popular items in the dairy case. But if you're feeling nostalgic, maybe it's time to revisit cottage cheese.

How Cottage Cheese is Made

Cottage cheese is a fresh cheese made from cheese curds that are rinsed in water then mixed with cream, milk or nonfat milk. The curds, which can be large or small, are the lumps in cottage cheese.

Some types of cottage cheese are made with rennet to speed up the process of thickening the milk and turning it into curds. Others add cultures to the milk instead, a slower process that yields a tangier cheese. This cultured cottage cheese is also called "clabbered" cottage cheese.

Once the curds form, then they are cut, warmed, drained from the whey (liquid) and then rinsed with water. Rinsing the curds removes any lingering whey and helps the curds retain moisture. The curds are then mixed with salt and something to make the cottage cheese creamy, such as cream, whole milk, crème fraîche, or nonfat milk.

Many brands of cottage cheese sold in grocery stores contain gums or carrageenan to stabilize and thicken it. Cottage cheese with added thickeners can have a sticky or slimy texture. Homemade cottage cheese and artisanal cottage cheese made by cheesemakers do not contain gums or carrageenan.

Cottage cheese is very similar to other types of fresh cheese such as paneer, pot cheese, and farmer's cheese.

Homemade Cottage Cheese

There are several different ways to make cottage cheese. Some methods take less than 30 minutes, others take days. Why make it yourself? Homemade cottage cheese has a richer texture and creamier, tangier flavor.

Cooking With Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese melts and disappears completely into whatever you are cooking, making it a "secret ingredient" in some pasta dishes, bread recipes, and other baked goods. Cottage cheese is added to give food a creamy and/or moist texture.