Cheese

Learning to Love the Ugly Stepchild of the Dairy World

June  2, 2016

First, the cold hard facts: From 2015 to 2016, “The cottage cheese category’s dollar sales increased 1.2% to $1.1 billion.”

This is straight from the May issue of Dairy Foods magazine (for all your lactose news needs). In short, cottage cheese is having a resurgence. The oft-maligned food is being reconsidered, with a keener, more creative eye. (We are a society, after all, that now considers quinoa a breakfast food and roasted kale an acceptable stand-in for potato chips.)

But I’m not here to talk about the renewed love affair with cottage cheese that has gripped the nation. This is about one woman’s own cottage cheese awakening.


It’s Saturday morning, 8:04 A.M., precisely 4 minutes after the Trader Joe’s in Brooklyn has swung open its doors for a day of breakneck, angry shopping. I’ve got an eighth of a caffeine buzz from the complimentary shot glass-sized coffee I just downed. Today’s free sample—meticulously portioned squares of a jelly-filled breakfast bar—quickly followed. (Rules to live by: Never turn down a free sample.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I love cottage cheese, but I must ask about people's curd size preference. I really only can stand the large curd. You might ask, well what's the difference, but there really is. The small curd always seems to be much more watery and lacking in flavor. So why oh why are there so many more varieties of the small curd, I just don't get it .”
— Nancy K.
Comment

I’m not a shopping list girl—I show up early so I have some time to pace the aisles, plotting elaborate feasts that usually end up with me eating what I like to call “Desperation Hummus” hunched over my kitchen island. But shopping without structure also leaves me wide open to new frontiers. I alight on the dairy case, ready to snatch up an enticing package of string cheese. I contemplate a tub of feta, whose final cubic centimeter, despite my best intentions, will no doubt sour before I can use it all up.

Eyes scan over a pint-sized tub: cottage cheese.

The word association begins: Cottage cheese. Diet. Low fat. Jazzercise. Jane Fonda. Leotard. Spandex. Neon.

Notice that most of these words have very little to with food.

Despite aerobics videos playing in my head, I decided it was time I gave cottage cheese a shot. See, I’d never even tasted it before. I was one of those kids who hated cheese growing up (or was that just me?) and gagged at the thought of consuming the strange, watery stuff. But now, armed with a fully-matured palate (I eat olives now!), my interest was piqued.

I tucked the tub into my basket, which up to this point held only string cheese and a package of chocolate-covered potato chips (how did those get in there!?). I hastened to the checkout before I could change my mind.

The cottage cheese dressing on Jamie Oliver's Smoked Beets will make a C.C. lover out of anyone.

Fast forward to later that day…

It took only a spoonful to decide: I liked it. I liked the nubby, squeaky curds. I liked the sour and salty taste. It was rich and creamy, but not heavy. Cottage cheese inspiration flickered into view, the excitement of something new (and unusual) to incorporate into my cooking.

That single bite had me convinced. In my own little corner of the world, cottage cheese had ARRIVED.

To say cottage cheese is “back” would be discrediting its long-time devotees (in 2013, the equivalent of 2 pounds per every person was consumed in the U.S.—that’s over 600 million pounds of cottage cheese). We’ve even touted its merits on this very site. Claiming cottage cheese as the new kefir/crème fraîche/labne/other-en-vogue-dairy-product would be diminishing its unique properties. Cottage cheese is its own beast.

It’s not fey or fluffy (looking at you, ricotta). It’s stocky and reliable. It’s without the suave silkiness of Greek yogurt, the charmer that gets along almost too well with most everything. Cottage cheese has got a funk and a feel that doesn’t fit in everywhere. It’s a little bit socially awkward. Not to get too armchair-psychologist here, but maybe that’s why I identify with it so much: I’ve always valued the underdog, the overlooked.

Cottage cheese, in its earnestness, has found its way into my heart and onto my table:

  • Dolloped on toast, a lumpy daybed for roasted and burst cherry tomatoes, toasty chopped hazelnuts, or seeds of varied trendiness (hemp? chia?).
  • As the Triple C (Cottage Cheese Classic): Mixed up with chunks of syrupy, sugary fruits. I’m partial to the candy-sweet ataulfo mango, myself. The O.G. accompaniment is pineapple, and not for nothing. It’s a winning combo.
  • In a comfy-cozy rice and mushroom casserole (don’t stop reading! Resurrect the casserole!) from Heidi Swanson.
  • FRIED. Uh huh. Whisked up with eggs, flour, and salt, formed into patties, and plopped into shimmering oil. Hot sauce optional.
  • On pizza. (Here, I’d drain it first to get out some of the moisture). Plays nice with other cheeses and roasted red peppers.
  • In its little black dress, a couple grinds of black pepper and a splash of olive oil.

And in its natural state, unadorned, proud of who it is.

Fresh ricotta is practically a cottage cheese doppelgänger. Photo by James Ransom

Cottage cheese incites many opinions. Over low-fat versus full-fat (I’ve only experimented with full-fat). Over additives (many brands use thickeners and stabilizers like xanthan and guar gum.) Over superior brands. (One message board I found had over 200 comments arguing curd size, relative sourness, and optimal creaminess).

For me, I’m not overthinking it. Plain, uncomplicated cottage cheese wouldn’t want me to.

Any other foods that incite more condemnation and scorn than they deserve? Tell us in the comments!

37 Comments

Clara S. August 4, 2018
I’m sorry I used to love love cottage cheese, but it just to watery,I haven’t found one like I uses to get Knudsen love it but very watery Help if only one know of dryer thicker small<br />Curds please tell love to know Clair in Fresno
 
Cuocopazzo July 4, 2016
There is another option if you don't like the sometimes watery texture of cottage cheese: pot cheese (no kidding). It's dryer, thicker and denser, so it doesn't need to be drained of its whey for baking a cheesecake. I love it with a dollop of ketchup as a quick snack later in the morning before lunch. Helps reduce my crazy appetite and I know it's good for me. Yes, I know it's loaded with sodium (pot cheese) and sugar (ketchup). But I believe in everything in moderation. Don't judge...
 
HalfPint June 5, 2016
Love cottage cheese but it's gotta be full fat. The low fat/ non fat stuff is vile and it most likely the reason it got such a bad reputation. I love it with fresh cracked black pepper. I adore it with pineapple chunks. There's a noodle recipe from The Pioneer Woman that is fabulous. It's so versatile. So glad cottage cheese is getting its due.
 
btglenn June 3, 2016
Take a cup of cottage cheese, add to a cup of sour cream, an egg and a cup of cooked noodles, spice it up with a bunch of scallions, chopped, and a little worcestershire sauce, place in a greased casserole, top with brad crumbs, and bake until bubbly. Delicious!
 
inpatskitchen June 3, 2016
Not a fan of plain cottage cheese but I love it in lasagna, spinach pie and Noodles Romanoff.
 
Trena H. June 3, 2016
I'm very fond of cottage cheese, perhaps because I was a kid in the 70's. I used to make a recipe for lasagna that used cottage cheese. It was creamy and so delicious. Great article!
 
Jane W. June 3, 2016
<br />curd is the worst word i've ever heard BUT, OB, you nailed this and i love it
 
Coco E. June 3, 2016
Cottage cheese makes a mean (and cheap) cheesecake!! 750g full fat, hung in the fridge to drain for 4 hours then blitzed with a brick of full fat Philly's (full fat everything, really) and sour cream and 3 eggs. Half to a scant 2/3 cup of sugar usually does it. The high protein content makes the cheesecake stick to the roof of your mouth and the salt is a good balance since most cheesecakes sold in shops are too sweet anyway that you can't taste the cheese.
 
Coco E. June 3, 2016
That's 1 cup of sour cream, btw
 
Nancy K. June 3, 2016
I love cottage cheese, but I must ask about people's curd size preference. I really only can stand the large curd. You might ask, well what's the difference, but there really is. The small curd always seems to be much more watery and lacking in flavor. So why oh why are there so many more varieties of the small curd, I just don't get it .
 
Sarah June 3, 2016
I agree. Large curd is my favorite!
 
Author Comment
Olivia B. June 3, 2016
Unless I'm mixing it up into something else, large curd is definitely what I reach for!
 
Laura G. June 3, 2016
That's funny, I prefer small curd because large curd often seems to be looser, with more liquid. Of course, I've also found that it varies from producer to producer…and sometimes even batch to batch.
 
Sarah June 3, 2016
In the summer I love cottage cheese paired with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions marinated in a good basalmic vinaigrette...delicious!
 
Author Comment
Olivia B. June 3, 2016
Yummmm, tomato season can't come soon enough!
 
Sandy June 3, 2016
It's also fun and easy to make your own cottage cheese!
 
Author Comment
Olivia B. June 3, 2016
I've perused a few recipes—Sandy, do you use rennet or vinegar when you make yours?
 
amysarah June 2, 2016
Another bit of cottage cheese lore: Nixon's favorite food was cottage cheese doused with ketchup, which he apparently ate every day. Not sure why I know that.
 
Suzanne B. June 2, 2016
I love it right out of the container with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
 
SuperWittySmitty June 2, 2016
Bear in mind, cottage cheese is already loaded with sodium.
 
Andy June 2, 2016
New favorite savory breakfast: cottage cheese (low fat), thin sliced radishes, sprouts, pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), golden ground flax, mild hot sauce, salt and pepper. I like it with sweet things too, but sometimes that radish crunch...
 
Onegr8singer June 2, 2016
I was pleasantly surprised to see this article! For YEARS it's been yogurt,yogurt,YOGURT! Ounce for ounce "Miss CC" has way more protein and virtually NO sugar! When I take a stick blender and zap it for a few seconds- I can use it as a neutral kind of creamy base sauce for many things..Of course my fav is cc with strawberries and maybe banana with a shot of cinnaman......Breakfast done...and travels well to eat in car! Anyway so glad she has gotten the RESPECT she deserves! LOL.....bon Appetite.!!
 
Author Comment
Olivia B. June 3, 2016
Hear hear!
 
amysarah June 2, 2016
My iconic childhood lunch was elbow macaroni or egg noodles, mixed with cottage cheese (always 'creamed' full fat - this was pre-fat phobia), served with sugar to sprinkle as we ate - every bite had a sugar crunch. Derived from the classic Jewish noodles with 'pot cheese,' of course. Ranks high on the comfort food meter. Related, it's also essential for old school noodle pudding (noodle kugel.)<br /><br />I hardly ever eat cottage cheese anymore, but it's lovely folded into beaten eggs and scrambled.
 
Sarah J. June 2, 2016
Wow, that sounds amazing in every single way.
 
Andy June 2, 2016
We ate that too, called it noodles and cheese. Sustained me in college.<br />
 
Tom June 2, 2016
I'm going to try these recipes. I think my own derision over cottage cheese was the fact that it was always related to something uncomfortable and punitive - like diets - and the people eating it were miserable and always broadcast that fact to the world. PLUS...motivational speakers like Zig Ziglar and Judge <br />Ziglar (both now deceased) use to have a comedic one liner about losing weight: "Avoid cottage cheese. Only people who eat it are fat folks!" Not a very funny joke, but prejudice spreads easily.
 
Author Comment
Olivia B. June 3, 2016
Yes, cottage cheese's previous associations have done nothing to bolster its reputation. Here's hoping that it gets a second shot!
 
Hannah W. June 2, 2016
YAS! Cottage cheese and beets are one of my favorite combos. My friends in college said I ate like an old lady but I don't care. #cottagecheese4lyfe
 
SuperWittySmitty June 2, 2016
One serving of cottage cheese and you've reached your USDA daily recommendation of sodium: 400 mg sodium per ½ cup serving. Look for low-salt, if possible.
 
Laura G. June 2, 2016
Cottage cheese all the way!! I'll eat it for breakfast most mornings, topped with cinnamon and whatever fresh/dried fruit I have at the moment. I often add it my scrambled eggs, but I'm afraid the closest I've gotten to savory applications was my childhood favorite: cottage cheese & Ritz crackers.