As anyone who has ever given a snotty-looking oyster side-eye or bitten into a mealy apple and then immediately shouted “NO!” and thrown it across the room knows, a food’s texture can be its undoing. And perhaps no food has suffered so much for its texture as poor, unfortunate cottage cheese. Like the word “moist,” it’s pretty universally hated.
And, look: I get it. Runny curds are a difficult sell. Cottage cheese literally looks like a better beloved food — milk, perhaps, or sour cream — that has spoiled. And beyond that, cottage cheese is sad. It’s not seen a health food, but a diet food — something a Weight Watchers recipe book from the 1960s would advise mixing with Jell-O, mayo, canned vegetables, and salmon, and sticking in a ring mold. Sad! It’s retro, but somehow hipsters don’t even like it. (Yet.) Its entire vibe is “just one of the soft foods on the tray of soft foods your grandpa would receive as he lay dying in the hospital.” Add to that the fact that most of us learned what a yeast infection was from the phrase “cottage cheese–like discharge,” and it’s clear that it never really stood a chance.
BUT: As someone who found cottage cheese repulsive before I tried it, and meh after the first time I did, I’m here to tell you: to heck with what you’ve heard, because cottage cheese is actually delicious! And good for you! It’s really just misunderstood.
Beyond the aforementioned yeast connections, the reason I couldn’t get into cottage cheese for so long was that I wanted it to be yogurt, when it is, in fact, cheese. I suspect I am not the only one to make this mistake; both cottage cheese and yogurt are white dairy products that are often paired with fruit and eaten for breakfast. It was similar to when I took my first sips of beer with thoughts of Diet Coke and Sprite in my head — because, I don’t know, they all come in a can and have bubbles? In both cases, my immediate reaction was “What the hell is this garbage shit?” My perception of these foods as “good” or “bad” was directly tied to what I expected them to taste like. And no one had told me that cottage cheese was going to taste like cheese. (Except, of course, the people who named it that. I know, I know.)
Most Americans expect yogurt to be smooth and sweet. But cheese is allowed to be weird. Ricotta cheese has the texture of pureed cat food, yet somehow it still gets invited to the party. Blue cheese’s ENTIRE CLAIM TO FAME is its stinky mold. Many cheeses are smelly, gross, crazy science experiments, and we just call them an “acquired taste.” But even though cottage cheese definitely takes some time to get used to, liking it is not seen as a bougie badge of honor.
Now, perhaps you are sitting there thinking, Who cares? I don’t like cottage cheese and I don’t need to like it. But it’s worth learning to, because, as far as breakfast foods and snacks go, cottage cheese is great. Like eggs, cottage cheese is cheap, widely accessible, and very filling, but it takes literally no heat, time, or effort to prepare. It boasts the kind of nutrition info (120 calories and 14 grams of protein in a half-cup serving) that has helped make Greek yogurt so popular, but without the added sugar that flavored Greek yogurt has. It's also typically a lot cheaper. (At my grocery store, the most popular Greek yogurt brands cost between $4.50 and $6 per pound, while cottage cheese is $3.29 per pound.) If you’re dieting, cottage cheese is awesome. If you’re not dieting, it’s still pretty awesome.
I wanted cottage cheese to be yogurt, when it is, in fact, cheese.
If you’re reading this and are like, OK, sold, direct me to my nearest purveyor of curds, but still feel unclear on how to have the best cottage cheese experience, here’s my advice:
Go into any grocery store and get some cottage cheese. My coworker Natalie says organic cottage cheese is substantially better/creamier, so it might behoove you to start with that, but I buy the non-organic and always have. I usually buy 4% or 2% milkfat, but I’ll get 1% if it’s all they have. While fat-free is probably fine in situations where it’s not the star of the show, I don’t really recommend it if it’s the main event. (Also, if you’re worried about the extra calories in 4% because you're thinking, OK but who only eats a half-cup?, trust me when I say that cottage cheese is surprisingly rich, and a little goes a long way.) As for the size of the curds, I don’t personally care all that much, but going with the smaller ones seems prudent if you’re a first-timer who has textural hangups.
Also get some fruit. Good fruit — not frozen or canned, at least not this time. I recommend high-acid fruits because cottage cheese is so bland; my favorite is fresh pineapple, followed by strawberries, and then blueberries. Cantaloupe is just OK. A berry medley is fantastic. I wouldn’t recommend watermelon, apples, or grapes, but your mileage may vary.
At dawn, scoop some cottage cheese, maybe a half-cup or so, into a bowl. If you think you’d prefer it to be a bit drier (like it looks here), drain it in a colander first. Arrange the fruit nicely — no hospital tray situation for you! Pour yourself a delicious cup of coffee. Set the bowl of cottage cheese and your coffee on your table or desk. Make sure your Moleskine is visible, or maybe a succulent. Take a photo. (It photographs well, right? Another reason to like it.) Don’t take too many photos, though, because cottage cheese is best eaten while it’s very cold.
Keep your first bites small, and make sure you get a decent amount of both fruit and cottage cheese in each spoonful. The fruit will distract you from the cottage cheese’s texture, and it will force you to chew, another thing that will help you stop thinking of it as yogurt-adjacent. It will be mild, salty, creamy, and chewy. Take another bite, then another. Soon, you will have finished the whole bowl. See? That wasn’t so bad.
Another great way to eat cottage cheese is to spread a little bit onto the toasted halves of an English muffin. The crunchy, structurally-sound English muffin with its toasty little crannies is the perfect complement to the soft, cold cheese. You could also try cottage cheese on crackers (especially ones that feel fancy and/or vaguely European) or toast. If you enjoy bagels with cream cheese — which you do because you’re not a monster — this will be right up your alley. It’s also great on thick cucumber rounds. As you experiment, consider sprinkling some black pepper on the cottage cheese. Some day you may reach a point where you can eat it straight-up, no chaser. But I think that cottage cheese, like many weird cheeses, is best when paired with something else.
Once you’ve developed your taste for this fine fromage, people will see you eating it and will ask, “Is that...cottage cheese?” You’ll tell them, “Yes, it is!” And they’ll think, Who does this bitch think she is? Richard Nixon eating his resignation lunch? But they will simply say something like, “Oh,” or “Wow,” or “You know, I’ve actually never tried cottage cheese myself.” And you’ll tell them that it’s delicious, and they’ll say, “Huh.” And maybe, one day, they will decide to try it, too.