It’s high in protein, low in sugar and best when fresh and locally sourced. Cottage cheese is the epitome of modern food trends all in one container.
But even though it’s a health fanatic’s dream, only 1 in 5 Americans say they eat cottage cheese more than once a month, according to the 2017 cheese report from market researcher Mintel. Meanwhile, sales of sugary yogurts are soaring.
It wasn’t always like that. Cottage cheese ― which started as a way for European farmers to make use of milk wastes when producing other cheeses ― gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1950s as a diet and health food, said Nora Weiser, executive director of the American Cheese Society. By the 1970s, Americans consumed an average of five pounds of cottage cheese a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Now, yogurt ― especially Greek-style ― has usurped cottage cheese’s throne. While the two once had equal sales, today yogurt outsells cottage cheese 8 to 1, according to Mintel’s report.
Cottage cheese hits all the marks for keto dieters.
The reality is that cottage cheese is just as healthy as most yogurt options, if not healthier, said Lisa DeFazio, a registered dietitian and author of The Women’s Big Book of Smoothies and Soups.
Compared to Greek and plain yogurt, cottage cheese typically has fewer calories and slightly lower sugar and fat content. It usually has more protein than plain yogurt and slightly less than Greek yogurt. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of one full-fat serving of each of these options:
- Dannon plain full-fat yogurt: 150 calories, 8g protein, 11g sugar, 8g fat, 5g saturated fat, 115mg sodium
- Fage Total Greek Yogurt: 190 calories, 18g protein, 6g sugar, 10g fat, 7g saturated fat, 70mg sodium
- Cabot Vermont Style cottage cheese: 100 calories, 13g protein, 4g sugar, 4.5g fat, 3g saturated fat, 400mg sodium
For people following the buzzy ketogenic diet ― a moderate-protein, high-fat, low-carb eating plan ― cottage cheese’s fat content certainly doesn’t hurt. Because of its higher protein count and low sugar, DeFazio dubbed it a perfect option for keto followers, even better than Greek yogurt. (It’s to be noted that cottage cheese has a higher sodium content than yogurt.)
If you haven’t been following all the discussion about the keto diet: It capitalizes on ketosis, a natural process of survival when the human body goes into starvation mode. When the body is in this state, it produces ketones, a breakdown of fats in the liver. When the body is inundated with fats and proteins but starved of carbs and sugars, it burns those ketones, which some people find promotes weight loss.
But it has a marketing problem and an even bigger texture problem.
So why do most Americans currently opt for yogurt over cottage cheese? The experts, including cheese makers themselves, point at the way the product has been marketed over the years.
“Americans have preconceived notions about cottage cheese,” said Weiser. “They think of it as a retro food diet, something grandmothers ate at diners.”
President Richard Nixon famously liked cottage cheese with ketchup, which is probably not a selling point today either.
People have tried to update the food’s image with mixed success. Cheese powerhouse Cabot attempted what it felt was a necessary rebrand of its cottage cheese about a year ago, according to Roberta MacDonald, the company’s senior vice president of marketing. After months of research, they settled on minimalistic light-blue packaging highlighting the company’s Vermont roots, she told HuffPost.
“It was literally on the shelf for a month before the store owners begged us to change back. It was just dying up there,” said MacDonald, who’s been at Cabot for 30 years. “I couldn’t believe it made it worse than it already was.”
MacDonald has been eating cottage cheese for over 60 years and fed it to her children, calling it “crashed cars” to make it more fun. It’s part of her go-to meal, summer or winter, to prepare cottage cheese with avocado and a balsamic drizzle.
“If you like the texture of yogurt, I just don’t understand how you couldn’t like cottage,” she said, disagreeing with one of the most common complaints about the product.
Many people do not like the texture of cottage cheese. MacDonald admitted that some are “semi-revolted” by its consistency, likening it to cellulite or worse.
Understanding how it’s made may alleviate the ick factor.
To make cottage cheese, dairy farmers start with fresh skim milk and add a starter culture to create lactic acid from the milk’s natural sugars. Overnight, the curds form. They are cut (you can usually buy large- or small-curd cottage cheese), cooked, drained and “dressed,” a term used to describe the addition of milk to make the final product creamy, MacDonald said.
The dressing also determines the cheese’s fat content and much of its flavor. Some companies have experimented with creating unique flavors.
Cowgirl Creamery, for instance, dresses its curds with creme fraiche, producing a tart cheese with 4 grams of fat per half-cup serving.
Cabot’s flagship cottage ― its Vermont Style ― uses a 4-percent milk fat dressing that creates a thick, savory taste with 4.5 grams of fat per serving. The company also has lighter options with virtually zero fat and a thinner consistency.
In other words, there isn’t just one style of cottage cheese. You might heartily dislike the mouthfeel of one and find other delicious.
And you don’t have to eat it plain.
Similar to yogurt, cottage cheese can be used as a base for sweet or savory additions. For breakfast, try topping it with fruit, like melon or pineapple. The cheese’s natural salinity will pop against the sweetness.
For something more savory, use it as a base for a dip. Mix in green onion and fresh herbs, like parsley, dill and chives, and eat that with crackers for a healthy, high-protein snack between meals.
Because of cottage cheese’s high protein and fat content, even a small portion will be more satiating than a carb-heavy option like chips or popcorn, MacDonald said.
For meals, she recommends using cottage cheese as a “platform” or adding it to other dishes to increase protein and creaminess. For example, on Netflix’s “Queer Eye” reboot, food guru Antoni Porowski uses it in macaroni and cheese as a healthy way to give the meal a creamier, thicker texture.
Should yogurt be watching its back? Maybe not yet, but cottage cheese is coming for it.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated the ketogenic diet was high protein. It is a moderate-protein diet.