Cottage cheese is a loosely packed cow's milk cheese distinguished by its slightly bland taste and the whey that is left in with the cheese curds. The cheese is designed to be eaten fresh and is highly perishable. There are a number of uses for cottage cheese, ranging from a dish in and of itself to a substitute for ricotta in dishes like lasagna. Most grocers carry it, and it is also often available directly through dairies.
To make cottage cheese, cow's milk is curdled and then drained, but not pressed. Draining removes much of the whey in the cheese, but not all of it. Pressing would extract the remainder of the whey, turning it into a firmer cheese like pot cheese or farmer's cheese. Some producers also rinse the curds to reduce their acidity, so that they will taste less sour and tangy. The curds and whey are packaged together and sent to market; they should ideally be eaten within 10 days.
There are a number of variants on cottage cheese. Some producers use nonfat or skim milk to make nonfat or low fat cheese. Others add cream after it is made for a richer style. Some producers tend to make a drier version, while others keep it moist. The curds also range in style from small bits to large chunks, sometimes called “popcorn style.” In some cases, ingredients such as fruit or savory vegetables are added to make the cheese more flavorful.
Many consumers eat this type of cheese as a diet food, since it is low in fat and high in protein and calcium. It is often mixed with fruit such as pineapple or melon, or used with granola. Others snip chives over their cheese, or include it in recipes ranging from gelatine to stuffed manicotti. Weight lifters in particular try to integrate cottage cheese into their diets, since the high protein makes it a good muscle builder.
Some consumers dislike cottage cheese because of its very mild flavor. In some cases, producers have addressed this by leaving some acid in, making a tangier cheese or by flavoring it. Other consumers actively seek the cheese out because it is slightly bland, making it a great food for people who are sick or pregnant women looking for a neutral-tasting source of protein.