I was truly afraid of cottage cheese as a kid. It was always the stupendously slimy snack my mom would try to get me to eat for “health reasons,” when all I wanted was to gnaw on some Fruit Roll-Ups and play Nintendogs. The “curdled” description on cottage cheese labels always seemed like more of a warning than a delicacy, as if it were telling me to “turn back before it’s too late!” rather than grab a spoon and dig in.Despite the bombastic ick, people are like…eating it again? At this point, you're likely no stranger to the cottage cheese renaissance – it’s gained prevalence online from food creators concocting every recipe from cottage cheese ice cream to cottage cheese toast. I sought out to discover exactly why we have the hots for this soupy sustenance. Whether you're a cottage cheese skeptic or superfan, you’re going to want to read on, because it’s quite interesting.
What is cottage cheese?
It’s not like you have to go back in time to understand what cottage cheese is, but its history is fascinating. Legend has it that the world’s first cottage cheese was invented by accident. If a desert traveler hadn’t created the perfect conditions for cottage cheese-making by filling his sheep stomach saddle bags with milk (yikes), we wouldn’t have the chunky cheese snack we know today. Whether this legendary story is true or not, cheese literally predates recorded history.
Evidence shows the Mesopotamians made something close to cottage cheese as early as 3,000 B.C, with Egyptians doing the same about a millennium earlier. Even Homer’s Odyssey acknowledges the origin of cheese using rennin, an enzyme found in animal stomachs that coagulates milk.
In more recent history, cottage cheese (and cheese in general) became an easy solution to stretch the shelf life of milk that’s on its way out, before refrigeration was even invented. After years of cheesemaking, the cottage cheese we see on shelves today was born, using naturally occurring bacterias instead of rennin.
This easier process to make cottage cheese fueled its popularization in the late 19th century, as industrial cheese factories could produce it en masse. The product was widely promoted to save meat rations during World War I, hailed for being higher in protein than most meats.
Why cottage cheese?
Cottage cheese is essentially a curdled skim milk product that makes use of milk curds and leftover whey, for what Wikipedia calls a “creamy, heterogeneous, soupy texture.” It sounds pretty gross, but with the recent resurgence of cottage cheese, I don’t think we’re really thinking about it in *that* way.
Since the rise of diet culture in the 70’s and 80’s, contemporary health nuts praise the yogurt-adjacent food for being low in calories and high in protein. Even just half a cup has 12 grams of protein, suitable for gym rats and corporate baddies alike.
Ellen Byron declared that “cottage cheese wants what Greek yogurt has”' for The Wall Street Journal in 2016. It seems now we’re working cottage cheese into more and more dishes, just like we were obsessively scooping Greek yogurt into pastas and dips in the past years. But why? Is this just another food trend?
According to viral chef and lifestyle personality, Alix Traeger, cottage cheese has the internet to thank for its popularity:
"Cottage cheese has been around forever, but it just takes one person to decide to make a video with it for it to become a viral sensation. When making videos it’s important to never underestimate simplicity, sometimes it’s just someone’s sheer love for a certain ingredient or food that shines through in their content and inspires others to try!"
Is cottage cheese just a food trend?
Out of all the foods, I never would have expected cottage cheese to have its moment. Traeger isn't as shocked about it.
"I’ve been a content creator in the food space for almost 10 years so at this point rarely anything surprises me," says Traeger. "Just like fashion, beauty, or home decor, food trends come and go with each season."
Food trends come and go, but I predict cottage cheese is here to stay. Its versatility gives it longevity – just peek at some of the emerging recipes. The chunky cheese can be savored sweetly by making cheesecake-inspired ice cream, or prepped with more robust spice in dips and spreads. These recipes are just a few floating around in the online cottage cheese world.
Blueberry Cottage Cheesecake Ice Cream
Whipped Cottage Cheese
@chicago.dietitian If you dont like the texture of the small curds in cottage cheese, this will change your life 😆 #cottagecheese #whippedcottagecheese #dietitian #nutrition #learnontiktok #healthybreakfastideas #healthylunchideas #healthyrecipes #proteinhacks #highprotein #weightloss #fyp ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim
Cottage Cheese Scrambled Eggs
High Protein Cottage Cheese Dip
@joeywellness High Protein Dip 1 cup cottage cheese 1/2 tbsp garlic 1/2 lemon (peeled) 6 artichoke hearts 1 tbsp tahini 1 tbsp evoo 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp black pepper 2 tbsp water Blend and top with pepper, oregano, paprika and parsley Makes 6 servings (1/4 cup each serving) 94 cals / 5g fat / 6g carbs / 6g protein #healthy #food #snack #protein #hummus #cheese #nutrition #wellness #fyp ♬ original sound - joeywellness
Cottage Cheese Protein Pudding
Cottage cheese also gives consumers a bang for their buck. The most basic cottage cheeses are affordable, making it a friendly option amid price gouging and inflation at the grocery store. The fact people are reimagining cottage cheese into numerous different things is quite admirable.
So what do you think? Are you down to clown with this coagulated concoction? I'll remain skeptical until the right recipe.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter for more on the latest food trends!
Header photo by Christina Polupanova / PEXELS