A Bit of History
Cottage Cheese has a long history and because of this it has evolved into a variety of styles. It was originally made on the farm from the family cow(s). It was often made from older milk in which the natural bacteria had already started to work. The milk would be brought in and placed in a warm place (near the fire, behind the wood stove, or in the warming oven). Then after a day or so the natural bacteria would produce enough acid to cause the milk to form a curd. This was then cut, cooked to a dry curd, then washed with cold water. The finish was a cold dry curd with a tangy flavor. At some point someone realized that the taste improved with the addition of some cream to make the much richer tasting creamed cottage cheese.
In the days when farmers brought their milk to the cheese dairies by horse and wagon, the process was sometimes slow and the milk was not very fresh, especially in warmer weather. By the time this milk arrived at the dairy, the milk had already developed too much acidity to make a good cheese such as Cheddar and the only use for this already acidified milk was to make Cottage Cheese.
The primary process in making Cottage Cheese involves good dairy bacteria converting lactose to lactic acid. This lactose (or milk sugar) is an important component in our milk but unless it is converted by a good quality dairy bacteria, some off flavors or worse may result.
Several hours after the bacteria culture activity begins, the milk acidity increases to the extent that the milk coagulates into a solid gel which can be cut into small curds. This resulting curd is then cooked until the moisture is released and a dry curd is formed. Then this curd is chilled to the final cottage cheese as we know it. A final optional cream dressing may also be added to increase the richness and texture and this then becomes the Creamed Cottage Cheese.
Different Styles of Cottage Cheese
- Long Process: 14-16 hrs. to develop acid at room temp with no rennet.
- Short Process: 5-8 hrs. at higher temps 86F (30C) and using rennet for a firm curd.
- Dry curd Cottage Cheese (< .5% Fat)
- Low Fat Cottage Cheese (.5-2% Fat)
- Creamed Cottage Cheese (>4% Fat)
- In Pennsylvania this is a base for Pot Cheese and Farmers Cheese