I started making homemade cottage cheese after reading the ingredient list on a carton from the grocery store. Things like “lactose, salt, guar gum, mono and diglycerides, xanthan gum and carob bean gum.” Why so complicated?
Homemade cottage cheese takes just three ordinary kitchen ingredients: milk, vinegar, and salt.
It’s also a fantastic way to use extra milk before it goes bad.
Homemade Cottage Cheese
You don’t need cheesemaking experience to make homemade cottage cheese. The name itself implies as much: it’s a simple, fresh cheese so easy to make that even a cottager can make it. Or so suggests “Miss Leslie” in the July 1831 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the first reference to “cottage cheese.”
A Recipe with a Fabled Past
Of course, what we call cottage cheese existed before Miss Leslie’s writings. The ancient Mesopotamians were known to enjoy a salty, sour cheese as far back as 3000 BCE.
According to legend, a traveler carrying milk in his saddlebags discovered that his camel’s steps and the desert heat produced curds that he enjoyed sprinkled with salt.
There’s no proof that this tale is true, though it’s possible that early food storage methods (including the use of treated animal stomachs) might have led to the first cheeses. The stomachs of ruminants, like sheep or goats, contain rennet — an essential ingredient in cheesemaking.
You Don’t Need RAW Milk to Make Cottage Cheese
For years, I was under the impression that you need raw, unpasteurized milk to make cheese. The US FDA bans the interstate sale or transport of raw milk, and most states have similar laws, too.
Then one year, a friend who knows I’m into making things from scratch gave me a book on cheesemaking. That’s when I learned you can make pretty much any cheese from storebought milk, as long as it hasn’t been through the ultra-high temperature (UHT) process that’s known as “long-life milk” in the UK.
Unfortunately, most organic milk sold in the U.S. has been through that treatment, so if you’re going to get into real cheesemaking, be sure to check the label.
Although my entire family loved the Cotswold Cheese that I made a couple of years ago, it took months to age.
Homemade Cottage Cheese Takes Only Minutes
Unlike firmer or pressed cheese, homemade cottage cheese takes just minutes, and you can eat it right away.
If you use milk that’s about to turn sour, you’ll want to eat your homemade cottage cheese the same day. Otherwise, it can keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Don’t Toss the Whey
One thing you’ll notice while making this Homemade Cottage Cheese recipe is that there’s a lot of liquid coming out of the curds when you drain them.
That stuff is known as whey, and it’s same the yellowish liquid that pools on your store-bought cottage cheese, sour cream or yogurt. Keep it, because whey is a protein powerhouse!
Use whey in place of some of the water when you make stock, toss it into soups, or add it to smoothies. (Related: 10 Ways to Use Kitchen Scraps)
I’ve also read that whey makes an incredible beauty treatment. Just pour it on and let it sit for an hour before shampooing to restore shine and make your hair stronger. For feet, add it to a footbath and soak to soften rough heels.
This is NOT Ricotta
Just about every week I get a comment or email from someone claiming this recipe produces ricotta, not cottage cheese. So, let me be clear: this is not ricotta!
True ricotta cheese is made starting with whey, which is a byproduct of cheesemaking. Not many home cooks keep a large quantity of whey on hand, so ricotta recipes on the internet rely on a similar method to the one used to make homemade cottage cheese. If you want to make ricotta, it’s essentially the same process as below but you’ll use 2 gallons of whey. (Adding milk is optional.) Here’s a good recipe to get you started.
If you’re familiar with making homemade cheese, you’ll also notice that the recipe is similar to that used to make paneer, quark, and farmer’s cheese.
Homemade Cottage Cheese Recipe
Ready to make cottage cheese on your own? Grab a gallon of milk, some white vinegar, and your salt shaker, then let’s get started!
Homemade Cottage Cheese
- Large pot
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Slotted spoon
- Cheesecloth (or clean kitchen towel)
- Medium bowl
- 1 gallon whole milk – NOT ultra-high temperature processed or “long life”
- ¾ cup white vinegar
- 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 squeezing it with your other hand until the entire ball of cheese is cool.
- Dump the cheese out of the cloth into a bowl and use a spoon to break it into small curds. Stir in salt to taste.
- 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.
- Chill for at least 1 hour then stir before serving. Use within five days.
Homemade cottage cheese is, of course, delicious on its own or topped with fruit. Or go savory by stirring in chopped tomatoes and red onions then seasoning it with cracked black pepper. Turn it into a dip with a little homemade Ranch dressing mix, or use it in place of ricotta when making lasagne.
Any way you use it, homemade cottage cheese is delicious!