Homemade cottage cheese is easy to make and a great way to use up milk before it spoils. It’s a simple, healthy, and high-protein food which, when made at home, tastes so much better than what you’ll find at the store.
If you’ve never been a fan of the stuff, I’ve got some flavor variations and quick cottage cheese snack ideas that may just win you over. And don’t miss the troubleshooting pointers and FAQs at the end: they’ll help you create the best cottage cheese at home.
I started making homemade cottage cheese after an unpleasant experience trying a brand-name version I bought at the store. It had a gummy flavor, not at all fresh, and one look at the ingredient list on the carton explained why: “lactose, salt, guar gum, mono and diglycerides, xanthan gum, and carob bean gum.”
Cottage cheese got its name because it was traditionally made in cottages from the leftover milk after making butter. The milk would be left to curdle, forming what we now know as cottage cheese. Now, for food safety, we use an acidic ingredient and heat to make the curds quickly, but the process of making cottage cheese at home remains simple. Pretty neat, right?
Storing Cottage Cheese
Keep your homemade cottage cheese refrigerated in an air-tight container and eat it within a week. If you store it upside down so the lid is on the bottom, it will form a “seal” that keeps it fresh a little longer. Cottage cheese made with milk that’s about to spoil will only be good for a day or two. Signs that it has gone bad include a sour odor and discoloration.
Not a fan of cottage cheese on its own? Try these serving ideas, or read on flavor variations!
- Savory Cottage Cheese Salad: Combine 2 cups of cottage cheese, 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, 2 tablespoons chopped red onions and a sprinkling of furikake seasoning or black pepper.
- Cottage Cheese Ranch Dip: Blend 2 cups of cottage cheese in a food processor or blender with 2 tablespoons of homemade Ranch dressing mix. Chill 30 minutes or more to let the flavors combine.
- Lasagna: Use cottage cheese in place of ricotta in your favorite lasagna recipe. To keep it from tasting grainy, stir in 2 tablespoons cream for every 2 cups of cottage cheese used.
Not a fan of plain cottage cheese? Use 1 cup as the base to make any of the flavored cottage cheeses below:
- Garlic Herb Cottage Cheese: Add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 tablespoon snipped fresh herbs.
- Fruit-Flavored Cottage Cheese: Add 1/2 cup crushed pineapple or 1/2 cup frozen berries (thawed) or 1/2 cup applesauce.
- Chocolate Cottage Cheese: Add 1 tablespoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of your preferred sweetener with the cream in Step 7. Chill 30 minutes before serving.
- Cinnamon Maple Cottage Cheese: Add in 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 tablespoon maple syrup.
For the best results, review the section of Frequently Asked Questions below. There, I explain different types of milk you can use, what you can substitute or skip, and how to ensure your curds don’t come out small or wispy.
Easy Homemade Cottage Cheese
- Large pot
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Slotted spoon
- Cheesecloth (or clean kitchen towel)
- Medium bowl
- Cooking thermometer
- 1 gallon whole milk
- ¾ cup white vinegar or apple cider vinegar or 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tbsp heavy cream (optional, see step 7)
- Pour milk into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Heat slowly to 190°F/88°C stirring regularly so the milk doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot.
- Remove from heat, pour in vinegar and stir a few times. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, line a colander with a clean piece of doubled cheesecloth or a tea towel. Place the colander over another bowl to catch any liquid (whey) that drips out.
- Spoon the solids from the pot into the lined colander. Let drain for 30 minutes.
- Gather the ends of the cloth tightly together and form a cloth-wrapped ball of cheese. Holding this in one hand, run cold water over the ball, kneading and gently squeezing it with your other hand until the entire ball of cheese is cool.
- Transfer the cheese from the cloth into a bowl and use a spoon to break it into small curds. Stir in salt to taste. (For best flavor, chill for 30 minutes before serving.)
- For creamy cottage cheese, stir in the heavy cream 2 tablespoons at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Check taste and add more salt if needed.
- Add ingredients for flavor variations listed in the blog post if desired.
Quick Cottage Cheese Snacks
Check out my slideshow for quick snack recipes featuring homemade cottage cheese, like smoothies, stuffed pickles, and a satisfying granola bowl.
Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve put together the questions and answers below so you can produce the best homemade cottage cheese possible. If I haven’t answered your question, please leave it in the comments.
What’s the difference between cottage cheese and ricotta?
Many people confuse ricotta and cottage cheese. In Italian, the word “ricotta” means re-cooked. True ricotta cheese is made with fresh whey left over from any cheesemaking.
To make ricotta using leftover whey, combine 4 cups of fresh whey and 2 cups of milk and use it in the recipe above, adding only 1 tablespoon of vinegar. The rest of the steps stay the same.
Can I use canned, powdered, or evaporated milk?
No. You can’t make cottage cheese from canned, evaporated, or powdered milk because the processing involved has changed the milk’s proteins. Canned and evaporated milk have been exposed to high temperatures which have destabilized the proteins, so they won’t form curds that hold their shape. Powdered milk has been exposed to long, low heat which accomplishes the same.
Can I use organic milk?
It depends. If the organic milk has been through ultra-high temperature (UTH) treatment, it will not make cottage cheese. This is because the high temperatures have destabilized the proteins, so they will not form curds. Curds are necessary to make cottage cheese.
Do I need raw milk?
You do not need to use raw milk to make cottage cheese, although you can. Raw milk is not legal in every state, so you should check with your locality. Pasteurization partially sterilizes milk but does so at a temperature low enough that it does not keep the proteins from forming curds.
Can I use goat milk?
No. The proteins in goat milk differ from those in cow milk, so it’s not a good substitute. This homemade cottage cheese recipe is specifically for cow’s milk.
Can I use lactose-free or lower-carb milk?
No. Lactose-free milk and “low carb” milk have both been through treatments which affect the structure of their proteins. This make them incapable of forming the type of solid curds needed to create cottage cheese.
Can I use plant milk, nut milk or another dairy-free milk?
No. Neither plant milks (soy, hemp, or oat) nor nut milks (almond or cashew) contain the proteins needed to form curds with this method. To use plant or nut milk, you’ll need tofu or plant-based yogurt as called for in this recipe for dairy-free cottage cheese.
Why are the homemade cottage cheese curds small?
Homemade cottage cheese curds come out small or grainy for several reasons. The most common one arises when people overheat the milk or try to heat it too quickly.
- Heat the milk slowly. Heating the milk too quickly does not allow the proteins to form curds. Keep your stovetop temperature just below medium-high heat.
- Watch the temperature closely. Heat the milk slowly to 190°F, which is just below boiling. (See the video.) It will look foamy but not bubbling.
- Spoon the curds gently. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds from the pot to the lined colander. Dumping them will crush the curds, so they’ll come out small.
- Let it drain in the colander. Hanging the cheese from the faucet, as you would for paneer or other forms of cheese, allows its weight to squeeze out too much whey.
- Squeeze gently when rinsing. Being too rough with the ball of curds when you’re rinsing will break them up into small pieces.
Can I use a different kind of vinegar?
Making traditional cottage cheese without rennet or cultures requires an acidic ingredient. I use white vinegar in the video. You can use replace it with equal amount of apple cider vinegar, or use 1/2 lemon juice (two-thirds the amount of vinegar).
Can I skip the salt?
Sure! The salt is just there for flavor. If you want to make lower-sodium cottage cheese at home, follow this recipe but omit the salt, use half as much, or swap it with a salt substitute. I’ve even used homemade Mrs. Dash in place of the salt before and it’s delicious.
Can I skip the cream?
Sure. Using cream in this cottage cheese recipe is optional, but it adds a smoothness to the final product that you may miss if you leave it out. If you want to skip it to keep the calories or fat content low, consider adding half-and-half, non-dairy creamer, Greek yogurt, or even a few spoonfuls of leftover whey so it’s not dry.
What can I substitute for the cream?
You can use any of the cream varieties mentioned above, or try half-and-half, a dollop of yogurt, an equal amount of coconut milk or buttermilk, or even a splash of your favorite coffee creamer to give your homemade cottage cheese a richer flavor.
Don’t Throw Out the Whey!
Whey is the yellow liquid created when the proteins in milk form curds to make homemade cottage cheese. It’s the same as the yellowish stuff that pools on store-bought cottage cheese, sour cream, or yogurt, and it’s a protein powerhouse, so don’t throw it out.
Turn liquid whey into homemade whey protein powder. Or, use it in place of water when you make stock, or toss it in soups, use it in baked goods, add it to smoothies, or make ricotta cheese as described above using the whey left from making cottage cheese. It’s a versatile kitchen scrap you’ll want to keep on hand!
Making 4% or 2% Homemade Cottage Cheese
The 4% and 2% designations on cottage cheese reflect its fat content. Milk fat content ranges from almost none in skim or non-fat milk to 3.25% in whole milk. Heavy cream is roughly 36% fat. So, to make homemade cottage cheese with a specific fat percentage, you’ll need to start with the right milk and adjust the amount of cream you use at the end.
Using skim or 2% milk, the fat comes entirely or in part from stirring in cream at the end. Stirring in 2 tablespoons of heavy cream in step 7 creates a 2% cottage cheese, while adding 4 tablespoons makes 4% cottage cheese.
Using whole milk, which contains 3.25% fat to start, rules out making 2% cottage cheese. But you can create 4% cottage cheese from whole milk by stirring in 2 tablespoons of heavy cream at the end.
Have any questions about making cottage cheese at home? Let me know in the comments—I’m happy to help!