September 16

Cottage Cheese – Everything You Need to Know

Written by: Caitlin Clark

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Little Miss Muffet ate her curds and whey before a spider frightened her away...but what was she really eating? Curds and whey is just an old name for cottage cheese, the protein-and calcium-rich snack still popular today.

Let’s take a closer look at this unusual and highly nutritious cheese.

What is Cottage Cheese?


Cottage cheese is a fresh, un-aged cheese made by cooking and draining cheese curds to retain their shape before suspending them in a dressing of milk or cream. It is touted as highly nutritious and is an adaptable ingredient with applications from salads to smoothies.

How is Cottage Cheese Made?


To make cottage cheese, producers first add bacteria and rennet to pasteurized, skimmed cow’s milk. The milk acidifies and coagulates for many hours, forming a firm curd. After cutting the curd, cheesemakers cook it in whey and hot water.

This step forces moisture out of the curds, tightening their protein structure and giving them a rubbery texture. Next, the curds are drained and washed in cold water to make them sweet. A small amount of milk or cream mixed back into the curds gives the cottage cheese its final texture.

Different Kinds of Cottage Cheese


Dry Cottage Cheese:

Dry cottage cheese refers to a crumbly variety of cottage cheese that is packaged just after the washing step, without any liquid added. This kind of cottage cheese is lower in lactose because the bacteria have broken it down. Some versions are labeled “lactose-free.”

Wet Cottage Cheese:

Wet cottage cheese indicates that milk and/or cream have been added to the curd to provide a soupy, spoonable texture. This also sweetens the cheese, as the dry curds can taste sour.

Other Varieties:

Widely appreciated for its healthy properties, cottage cheese is sold in 4% milkfat, 2% milkfat, or nonfat varieties. Sodium-free or salt-free versions are also widely available (check labels). Finally, some producers label their product according to curd size (small, medium, or large).

Cottage Cheese Substitutes


  • Ricotta: Like cottage cheese, ricotta consists of small lumps of curd. Ricotta has a grainy texture compared to the larger curds of cottage cheese. Though slightly higher in calories, ricotta is still a very nutritious ingredient.
  • Greek Yogurt: Despite its smooth texture, Greek yogurt is an excellent spoonable dairy replacement. Its nutrient profile is comparable to cottage cheese.
  • Tofu: If you require a more solid texture, crumbled tofu may provide it. The tofu has nearly as much protein as cottage cheese, and it's lower in saturated fat. It is an excellent match for the texture of the solid curds in cottage cheese.

What does Cottage Cheese Taste Like?


Because of the washing and dressing steps, cottage cheese is sweet, mild, and creamy. Most versions are also quite salty, but salt levels vary widely.

Cottage Cheese Pairings


Due to its mild flavor, cottage cheese combines well with many foods. It is frequently used in salads, and in some regions, it is even popular as a pancake topping! Unsalted cottage cheese pairs well with fresh fruit, such as berries and nuts, while salted versions may accompany fresh vegetables, such as avocado and tomato.

Best Cottage Cheese Brands


  • 365 Organic (best overall): A high-quality cottage cheese at a very affordable price, this 4% milk fat cottage cheese is also near at hand in many grocers.
  • Good Culture (best dry cottage cheese): This option is known for its cheesy flavor, but it's still mild enough for use in sweet dishes.
  • Daisy (best wet cottage cheese): Sweet and milky, this brand forms a solid curd without the need for stabilizers that concern some customers. It is popular and available in most supermarkets.

Where to Buy Cottage Cheese 


Purchase cottage cheese fresh from a grocer or supermarket. It is not considered a specialty product, so it should be for sale in any cheese aisle or dairy section.

How Long Does Cottage Cheese Last?


An expiration date or a “sell-by date” should appear on your package. If you have not opened the sealed container, the cottage cheese will remain safe and edible for around five days past this expiration date.

Once you open the package, you should eat it within a week.

Remember that freezing is always an option if you can’t eat it in time. Cottage cheese will stay good for around three months in the freezer, and it will regain its texture if you stir it vigorously upon thawing.

How to Make Cottage Cheese


Newcomers to cheesemaking might try Alton Brown’s recipe for homemade cottage cheese, which uses vinegar instead of bacteria to acidify the milk and squeezes the curds instead of rinsing them. These alterations make the process faster and easier, but they will also change the flavor and texture of the final product.  

New England Cheesemaking Supply offers a step-by-step guide to making authentic, bacterially acidified cottage cheese. We recommend this recipe for those with a little more experience and time on their hands!

Cottage Cheese Nutrition


The nutritional profile of cottage cheese depends on which variety you choose, including wet or dry, milk fat content, and even curd size.

A typical one-cup serving of cottage cheese includes around 180 calories and 24 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat ,and 11 grams of carbohydrates.

According to WebMD, it is also high in calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin A, potassium, selenium, and phosphorus.

Sodium content in particular may differ significantly. Some brands we researched contained over 1000 mg of sodium per cup, while others claimed to have only a fraction of that. If health is your concern, it is worth spending a little time checking labels.

Concluding


Although the cottage cheese craze reached its height a few years ago, there are still countless varieties of this versatile snack available. Find out which one is your favorite.

We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive article on cottage cheese. Let us know if you have any suggestions, questions or comments.

Cheers!

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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