For some, even the mention of it is enough to make them shudder; for others, it has hung on as the ultimate nostalgic snack. A classic of the 1970s diet food genre (your mum probably ate it spooned onto a Ryvita), cottage cheese should really have been among those food fads lost in the annals of time.
It has always been among the more divisive items in the cheese aisle. To taste, it has very little to do with cheese, falling more in the yoghurt category (Greek yoghurt eventually eclipsed cottage cheese when people caught onto it in the 1990s).
It’s somehow lumpy and runny at the same time, it’s a suspiciously bright white (that’ll be the titanium dioxide) and boasts absolutely no flavour whatsoever.
And yet, in an unlikely plot twist, it is suddenly back in favour. Yes, the youth have discovered cottage cheese, and they are determined to bring it back.
Google searches for cottage cheese have risen to the highest levels ever recorded since 2004 and TikTok is awash with videos of young foodies and nutritionists extolling its virtues. Some 322 million people are following cottage cheese content (who knew such a thing existed), and they’re not simply learning how to slather it on a cracker.
Cottage cheese recipes have come a long way since the days when the only way to pep up all that flavourless gloop was to add chunks of tinned pineapple.
Now, @ryankassim would like you to mix it with Everything bagel seasoning and an avocado and eat it straight from the bowl with a spoon; @kb.rd.nutrition wants you to simmer it with tomatoes and use it as a dip (the finished result looks a lot like loose scrambled eggs – I’m not entirely convinced I’d want to dip a Kettle Chip in it); @jakecohen wants you to make cottage cheese cookie dough and pasta alla vodka; @weight_lose_diet would like you to whip it with cocoa powder and hazelnuts for a dessert which he promises is “on a whole new level”. What the average 1970s dieter would make of a whipped Nutella cottage cheese pudding I’d love to know.
A move to rebrand cottage cheese is underway, beginning with the texture. For many, it’s the consistency that was always so troubling (though one friend admits to loving the fact that “it’s slightly chewy yet runny at the same time”).
The trademark lumps are curds, created when milk is mixed with rennet and a bacterial culture that produces lactic acid so it curdles, then heated and strained.
The dried curds are then dressed in salt and cream. Whipping it (not with a whisk, but by blending until smooth in a food processor) is billed as the gateway to cottage cheese for the texturally challenged. “I know there are a lot of trust issues with cottage cheese,” says one convert, “but I promise whipped cottage cheese is on a whole new level.”
Others urge anyone feeling tentative to think of it like ricotta or even burrata (which, with the greatest respect, is a stretch) and simply season it well. “I am on a mission to make cottage cheese the new burrata,” says New York food blogger Emily Eggers. “It’s 2023. It’s time to grow up and stop pretending like cottage cheese is not delicious. It’s creamy, it’s versatile, it can be salty, it can be sweet.”
Eggers – who claims to be in her “cottage cheese era” – uses it to top a simple tomato rigatoni, as if it were a ball of burrata or mozzarella. Others are catching on. @foodswelovetoeat spreads it on toast like you might ricotta. “We all see cottage cheese having a moment and I am here for it!” they say. “I used to think it was gross but as soon as I started treating it like ricotta/burrata, a whole new world opened up!”
An obsession with protein is partly at the root of this resurgence of an old staple. Received wisdom these days has it that the best diet for promoting weight loss is one which is low in carb, high in protein. Cottage cheese generally has a higher protein content than natural yoghurt (around 9.6g per 100g as opposed to 4g per 100g in full fat yoghurt), and while a hunk of cheddar would include more protein than a spoonful of cottage cheese, it would also include about five times the amount of fat.
Jake Cohen, a New York Times bestselling cookbook author, uses it in lieu of butter for protein-rich mashed potatoes. “I’m in a moment of obsession for blended cottage cheese. I used it to make a lighter and more protein-packed mash with tons of roasted garlic and it’s insanely perfect.”
Price is perhaps a factor too. Amid food inflation that has hit meat and dairy the hardest, a pot of cottage cheese (just £1.30 in Sainsbury’s) is perhaps a cheap option for the protein conscious shopper. At Waitrose, searches for cottage cheese saw a sudden spike in the past month, shooting up by 22 per cent in May.
For some, it isn’t a health food – rather, it’s a handy baking ingredient. The food writer Alison Roman has a recipe for an apricot cottage cheese cake which sits somewhere between a baked cheesecake and a very moist sponge. Sweet and luxurious (and with a good amount of browned butter in the batter) it’s about as far from a diet dessert as you could get and happily so.
For others, cottage cheese never stopped being a staple in their fridge, though they may never have admitted to it. Even my most foodie, most classy Italian friend confesses to a secret love. “I have a deep affection for cottage cheese,” she says. “In Italy it was this mysterious thing in the 1990s – it was like a surrogate for people who were on a diet and going against their sacred vows to ricotta. My friend’s mum – very cool, a hippy, and the only vegetarian I’d ever met – used to give it to us with crackers. Even if it does taste a bit like IKEA furniture, I still love it. Somehow it’s a comfort food.”
Put a pot in your trolley on the next weekly shop and take yourself back to a simpler time. Though no one would blame you for swapping the Ryvita for a slice of sourdough toast. This is 2023, after all.
With lots of lemon, garlic, olive oil and a few soft herbs like mint and coriander, cottage cheese can make a great dip for flatbreads, crudités and crisps. Seasoned well, it’s a bit like a yoghurt and feta dip.
Cottage cheese makes a great pasta sauce as long as you add it at just the right moment. Try sweating onions, garlic and cherry tomatoes, then add cooked pasta and a little cooking water. Take everything off the heat and stir through the cottage cheese – if you add it to the pan while it’s still on the hob, the sauce is likely to split. You could blend the cottage cheese first if you want a smoother, more creamy texture.
Cottage cheese makes for a great baked cheesecake. Or try using it in a pancake batter for something between a drop scone and an American pancake.