The Cheesemonger: Cottage Cheese

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Sure, we may never go as far as describing cottage cheese as refined, or elegant, or even complex, but deserving of some air time it is. We hereby extoll its simplicity and versatility and deride its mistaken identity solely as a dieter’s delight.

Just what is it, though, how is it made, and what are the best ways to enjoy it?

Just the visual sight of cottage cheese is actually a good way to understand the cheesemaking process. Simply put, cheese begins as milk, and becomes solid to varying degrees through a process known as acidification, whereby milk is soured, and coagulation, which with the binding power of rennet or another coagulant, forms protein chains that surround fat globules, which become individual curd particles. What’s left is whey, which is drained off. At this point, curd can be manipulated in a number of ways, but with cottage cheese, the interference stops here.

It’s just plain curd, really, which hasn’t been pressed at all. Most cheeses are pressed, even just slightly, in an effort to expel whey and moisture. It’s this non-process that makes cottage cheese unique, in combination with one other step: After the whey is drained, the curd is washed with cool water, which lowers the acidity and amps up one’s perception of sweetness.

The same process, incidentally, occurs in goudas, which is partly why sweet tooths hold them in such high favor.

In our opinion the kind of cottage cheese to savor is the large curd, full fat variety, which is made with rennet and has a lower acidity. It’s also lower in moisture than the small curd, non-renneted, higher acid styles, which often come off as soupy because of its high whey content. At its best, cottage cheese has a sweet, creamy flavor profile, with a textural complexity that sets it apart from anything else in the cheese case. Hm. Maybe it IS complex!

We’ve heard it before: You love cottage cheese. Some more great implementations:

  • Spread on Ak-Mak crackers with some honey.

  • Use in lasagna for a great ricotta-like addition.

  • Top with toasted walnuts and sliced pears.

  • Scramble into eggs for a super creamy scramble.

  • Stuff into squash blossoms and fry.

  • Use in place of ricotta in your favorite ricotta pancake recipe.

A great recipe for homemade cottage cheese and some interesting visuals of the make process can be found at David Lebovitz’s site, here.

Related: Good Question: A Reader’s Love of Cottage Cheese
Related: Fluffy Ricotta Pancakes