What Is Cottage Cheese? A Clumpy Explainer

Cottage cheese is one of the more polarizing foods out there. People either love it or hate it, and there isn’t much gray area.

That has always seemed strange to me considering that it literally just tastes like mild cheese with a bit of a tang, but hey, some people just can’t deal with “textures” of any kind. I’d hate to be there when they discover sandpaper exists (jk, if you hate cottage cheese you’re totally valid; I just can’t relate). But as much as I and many others in this world love cottage cheese, I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that we don’t reeeeally know what it is. But that changes today!

So what is cottage cheese?

Is it cheese you eat in a small house (with a mouse)? Is it actually not curds but a bunch of tiny houses made of cheese? Is it girls wearing braids and flowery sundresses frolicking through a meadow near a tiny house? Fun fact: It is actually none of those things. Y’all, and I can’t stress this enough, cottage cheese is just cheese. Literally. Here’s how cottage cheese is made, according to Healthline: “Cottage cheese is made by adding an acid to milk, which causes the milk to curdle. Then, the curd is drained and crumbled to make the final product.” And here is how other cheese is made, according to the Washington Post: bacteria are added to milk which “digest the milk sugar (lactose), producing lactic acid as a result. Lactic acid causes the casein to curdle, or separate into lumps.” The only differences are that conventional cheese has the addition of bacteria, and you would then take curds and smush them together into one wheel or cube, and sometimes age it a little. So next time your friend who “loves cheese but hates cottage cheese” tries to yuck your yum, just be super annoying and explain to them that cottage cheese is just a socially acceptable way to eat lots of lil cheese curds with a spoon.

But why is cottage cheese even a thing? Who half made some cheese and then decided, “You know what, I literally cannot wait until this is actually finished cheese to eat it,” and then dug in with a spoon?

Cottage cheese is believed to have originated around the same time as cheese. This makes sense because cottage cheese is kind of just an earlier stage in the cheesemaking process. The legend goes that Mesopotamians stumbled on cheesemaking back in the third century B.C.E. by filling sheep-stomach saddlebags with milk for traveling purposes. The heat of the desert plus the constant sloshing around of the milk in the bags, combined with the set of enzymes known as rennet from the sheep stomach, caused the formation of the cheese curds, which would eventually become the cheese curds we know and love today. Historians can’t necessarily confirm that’s the way it went down, but it does make a whole lot of sense. As for why it is called “cottage” cheese? It’s just because it was cheese that people could (and did) make in their cottages.

In conclusion, it may look like white barf to you, but cottage cheese is truly just a very simple cheese that was once made in cottages, sometimes with some cream added back to it to make for a creamier eating experience. And if thinking of it like that still makes you leery of cottage cheese, fine. But if I have opened you up to wanting to try it again, I highly recommend trying it out with some savory stuff. Try it on Lay’s potato chips with some smoked salmon and chives, or spread on some bread with a bit of caramelized onion and salt, or add it to buttered noodles to make an old Block family recipe called “noodles and cottage cheese.” You won’t be disappointed. Here is Sporked’s list of the best cottage cheeses if you’re cottage curious, and I whole(milk)heartedly agree with these rankings. That Good Culture stuff is so good it has me (cottage)cheesin’ every time I buy it. 

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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  • When I was young, My grandfather would eat cottage cheese with the apple sauce that my grandmother made. He would put it in a dish with a depression in the center and spoon the apple sauce into that. I enjoyed it, and I occasionally eat it that way, but I prefer the pure, clean flavor of straight cottage cheese. The important thing is to never accidentally buy unsalted cottage cheese.