What Is Cottage Cheese and How Is It Made?

Plus, get our best recipes with cottage cheese.

bowl of cottage cheese on a blue placemat
Photo: Dera Burreson / Dotdash Meredith

Cottage cheese is a tasty, creamy, and versatile ingredient that deserves a permanent spot in your fridge. But what exactly is cottage cheese — and where does it come from? Here's everything you'll ever need to know about the kitchen staple:

What Is Cottage Cheese?

Cottage cheese is essentially curds (which form when an acid curdles milk) and cream. Like ricotta, mozzarella, feta, and goat cheese, cottage cheese is a fresh cheese, meaning it isn't aged like Parmesan and Cheddar.

While people have eaten something like it for thousands of years, the name cottage cheese only dates back to the mid-1800s. "It's thought to be the first cheese made in America. It was brought to the U.S. from Europe," says Jesse Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Good Culture.

"The story is that cottage cheese used to be made in farmhouses or cottages, where they would have an excess of milk from butter making and would use the extra milk to make cottage cheese," he says. Hence its name.

How Is Cottage Cheese Made?

Cottage cheese is fermented. Like all dairy products, cottage cheese begins as milk. Adding enzymes or live, active cultures (probiotics) converts milk sugars (lactose) into lactic acid. The lactic acid separates the curds (the milk solids, fats, and proteins) from the whey (the liquid).

In this stage, the curds are basically a solid block of cheese. It's up to a knife-like curd cutter to slice the cheese into bite-sized pieces. Whether the cottage cheese is small curd or large curd depends on the design of the curd cutter.

"Cutting into the curd releases a bunch of whey. We then drain out the whey and that leaves you with a nice curd. You mix the curd with cream after that," Merrill says.

Cottage Cheese Substitute

Chef John's Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Chef John's Homemade Ricotta Cheese. Chef John

No cottage cheese? No problem. Ricotta is probably the best cottage cheese substitute, since they have similar flavors and textures. Here are some other cottage cheese alternatives that may work well depending on the recipe:

  • Mascarpone
  • Feta cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Mozzarella
  • Goat cheese

What Does Cottage Cheese Taste Like?

Cottage cheese varies not only in curd size but also in consistency and flavor. Cottage cheese shouldn't have a soupy or slimy texture, says Merrill, who adds that it should almost resemble yogurt in thickness and creaminess. Less separation between the curds and the cream creates a smoother mouthfeel.

Cottage cheese should taste mild, clean, and milky with just a hint of salt. It may have a subtle tang depending on how it's cultured as well as its fat content. Fat-free and low-fat (2 percent) cottage cheese taste more tart, while full-fat (4 percent) and high-fat (6 percent) cottage cheese taste creamier.

How to Make Cottage Cheese At Home

Cottage Cheese
Soup Loving Nicole

Believe it or not, you can make homemade cottage cheese in the comfort of your own kitchen with just three ingredients: milk, vinegar, and salt. You'll also need a small saucepan, a colander, and cheese cloth.

Get the recipe: Homemade Cottage Cheese

Ricotta vs. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese and ricotta look similar, and sometimes one can be substituted for the other, but they are very different things. While cottage cheese is made from coagulated cow's milk, ricotta is made from the by-products of other cheeses (such as mozzarella). They also differ in texture and flavor — cottage cheese is chunky and slightly salty, but ricotta is creamy and slightly sweet.

Cottage cheese can be used in place of ricotta in certain cooked recipes (like lasagna), as it has a similar texture and fewer calories.

How to Eat Cottage Cheese

You can enjoy cottage cheese in the same ways you would eat yogurt: plain, paired with fruit or vegetables, blended into smoothies, or even cooked into recipes.

How to Store Cottage Cheese

Store cottage cheese in the fridge in an airtight container (the one it came in is probably fine). Keep it upside down to slow bacteria growth. Stored properly, it should last about 10 days after opening.

Can You Freeze Cottage Cheese?

You can freeze cottage cheese, though it slightly alters its texture, Merrill says. It's better to eat it fresh or to only freeze cottage cheese that you plan to cook with. When you bake lasagna with cottage cheese, for example, you shouldn't notice the difference between fresh or frozen cottage cheese.

Recipes With Cottage Cheese

Easy Lasagna I
Sonia renee

Now that you're an expert, it's time to get cooking! Try one of our favorite recipes with cottage cheese:

Explore our entire collection of Cottage Cheese Recipes.


Updated by
Corey Williams
Corey Williams

Corey Williams is a food writer for MyRecipes and Allrecipes. She has a decade of journalism experience.

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