Cottage cheese is a dairy product derived from cheese curds. It is mild in flavor and is not aged or colored like nearly all other processed cheeses. It is drained, but not pressed, so some whey remains and the curds are loose. During processing, the curds are washed to remove any residual acidity, rendering a sweet curd cheese. Cottage cheese can be made from milk of varying fat levels and comes in both small and large curd varieties. It, when pressed, can be made into hoop cheese, farmers cheese, pot cheese, or queso blanco (a traditional Mexican-style cheese).
The term 'cottage cheese' is believed to have originated because this simple cheese was made from leftover milk from the butter-making process and was made in farmers' cottages. The term first appears c. 1848. The phrase 'curds and whey' from nursery rhyme fame is another dish made from curds and whey but it is unknown exactly what the consistency or appearance of it was. It is also not known how it was drained (if at all) or how it was curdled, which affects flavor. Some writers claim 'curds and whey' and cottage cheese are equivalent or similar.
The curd size is the size of the 'chunks' in the cottage cheese. The two primary types of cottage cheese are small-curd, high acid cheese made without the presence of rennet and large-curd, low acid cheese made with the presence of rennet. Rennet is a complex of enzymes that speeds up the curdling process and keeps the curds that do form from breaking apart. It shortens the cheesemaking process and results in a lower acid and larger curd cheese and cuts down on the amount of curd poured off from the whey. Sometimes large curd cottage cheese is called 'chunk style.'
Cottage cheese can be eaten plain, with fruit, with chopped fresh herbs, with fruit purée, on toast, with tomatoes, in green salads or used as a component ingredients in dishes such as lasagna, some old-fashioned Jell-O salads, and various desserts. Cottage cheese served with pears or peaches is a standard side dish in many homestyle cooking or meat-and-three restaurants' menus.
Unlike most processed cheeses, cottage cheese is naturally lower in fat and cholesterol, making it a popular food amongst healthy dieters. It is also very popular amongst bodybuilders and weightlifters due to its high content of casein protein while being relatively low in fat. It is also safe for pregnant women to consume, whereas some cheese products are not.
A 4 oz. serving of a full fat cottage cheese usually has around 4% milkfat and has around 120 calories, 5 g fat (3 g saturated), 3 g carbohydrates and 14 g protein. However, it does contain higher levels of sodium (around 500 mg) but provides essential calcium (20 mg) and around 20 mg cholesterol.
Reduced fat and fat free versions of cottage cheese also exist but these tend to lack flavor so to compensate, manufacturers usually end up adding extra sugar to boost the flavor. Low sodium varieties of cottage cheese can also be found and can be salted to taste.
Cottage cheese also contains a high level of phosphorus and trace amounts of iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.