Is it conscious uncottage-ing, or does it actually taste good?
I sometimes think that being a food writer is pretending to be obsessed with foods you don’t even like. On occasion, however, you may discover you happen to be totally happy eating something you thought you despised. This is me with cottage cheese. I’d been worried it was going to happen for a while. Greek yogurt had its 15 minutes, so what would be the next “it” dairy product? I hoped it would be ricotta, which I happen to love smeared on a piece of toast with jam or fresh fruit. But, alas, it is ricotta’s fresh curd cousin, cottage cheese, that seems to be catching the eye of plenty of people these days.
Senior Food and Drinks Editor Kat Kinsman wrote about the potential trend back in 2016, in response to a Wall Street Journal story that had just run. This was before I was working at Extra Crispy, and I remember reading the stories and thinking, oh no, if others are noticing this, it’s definitely happening. Bon Appetit’s Claire Saffitz wrote about her affinity for the cheese in Healthyish last year; and just last month Kim Severson asked if America was ready for the return of cottage cheese in the New York Times, citing several prominent purveyors of the product’s attempt to “‘uncottage’ cottage cheese.”
Cottage cheese never appealed to me. Possibly because it was always served at my grandparents’ houses with fruit from a can at times when I would’ve preferred strawberry GoGurt, or maybe because as a kid I just thought it looked weird. But I’m a grown up now, and I know that “looks weird” is no indication of appealing flavor or texture. So I decided to consult an expert, and to start at the very beginning, because that’s a very good place to start.
“All dairy products are created differently, but cottage cheese is mild and deliciously creamy, so it’s extremely versatile,” Gerard Meyer, CEO of Muuna Cottage Cheese, (a brand mentioned in both the Journal and Times pieces) told me in an email. “It’s high in protein and low in sugar, so it makes a great alternative to yogurt.” Meyer also compared cottage cheese to a “protein-packed alternative [to] ricotta, sour cream, and mayonnaise,” to be used in any sweet or savory application.
Muuna, which sports the tagline “a new way to cottage,” is certainly hoping to “Chobani” (another gem from a dairy executive quoted in the Times) their product. Muuna’s cottage cheese comes in sleek white containers stamped with stylized lettering—nothing like the garish red and pink plastic tubs printed with white cursive of my childhood. Fruit on the bottom flavors are offered, and “15 grams of protein” is prominently displayed on the front. These are clear indications that cottage cheese is in competition with yogurt.
“Until recently, cottage remained stuck in the past as a bland diet food, while yogurt innovated in package design, package sizes, flavors, and an overall healthy-for-you positioning,” said Meyer. “Yogurt consumers who like their protein and probiotics, but are perhaps concerned with sugar content are now looking to Muuna to satisfy their cravings for a healthy, creamy, delicious snack.”
Since my exchange with Meyer, I gave cottage cheese another chance. Not quite ready to go to town on the stuff like I would a bowl of yogurt, I spread a few spoonfuls on a piece of sourdough toast, then topped it with honey and a pinch of flaky sea salt. To my shock, I found it not bad. Not bad at all. It tasted like ricotta mixed with runny yogurt. I… liked it?! I tried again, this time in a bowl with a heap of berries and sliced stone fruit. Of course, not much is bad with peak summer produce, but again I was stunned to discover how much I actually kind of enjoyed the cottage cheese. I also did not mind a scoop blended into my morning smoothie.
If there’s one thing I can include as a caveat in my cottage cheese journey, it’s to pay attention to the fat content. “Let me make something clear about my love of cottage cheese: it only applies to the plain full-fat kind,” Saffitz writes in Healthyish, and I couldn’t agree more. The watery nonfat cottage cheese plates of yore should not even be in the same category as its creamy, full-fat counterpart. If you’re going to give cottage cheese a try, I beg you don’t fear the fat.