This homemade cottage cheese recipe is so easy to make and takes only three ingredients. Check out the video, too!
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.
Making Homemade Cottage Cheese is Easy
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 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, so I figured store-bought was the only option.
Then one year, a friend who knows I’m into making things from scratch gave me this book on cheesemaking. That’s when I learned you could 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 U.K. Unfortunately, most organic milk sold in the U.S. has been through that treatment, so if you’re going to get into real cheesemaking, check the label.
Tips to Make Homemade Cottage Cheese
Unlike firmer or pressed cheese, homemade cottage cheese takes just minutes, and you can eat it right away without aging. 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 the same as the yellowish liquid that pools on your storebought 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 a great 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. It’s not. In Italian, the word “ricotta” means re-cooked. True ricotta cheese is made starting with whey, which is a byproduct of cheesemaking, and then it is re-cooked, usually with an additional acidic ingredient.
Not many modern home cooks keep a large quantity of whey on hand, so ricotta recipes on the internet basically make homemade cottage cheese and then cream it. If you’re familiar with making homemade cheese, you’ll also notice that the recipe is similar to making paneer, quark, and farmer’s 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.) Or visit here for a good ricotta recipe to get you started.
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!
Common Questions about Making Homemade Cottage Cheese
When I first shared this recipe in 2013, there were not many other recipes for making cottage cheese on the internet. Since then, dozens of other sites have posted different versions. People arriving at this recipe for homemade cottage cheese often have read several others, and sometimes try to combine steps from different versions with disastrous results. So, the questions and answers below will hopefully help you avoid problems while making your own cottage cheese at home.
Can I Use Skim or Non-fat Cow’s Milk? This cottage cheese recipe recommends whole pasteurized, homogenized cow milk but you can use 1%, 2%, skim, or non-fat cow milk if you like. The lower the fat content of your milk, the dryer your cottage cheese curds will taste. You can overcome that by stirring in cream at the end, as suggested in the recipe card. Or, if you prefer to make non-fat cottage cheese, skip the cream.
Can I use Goat Milk? I have not personally made cottage cheese using goat milk, but readers have said it works well.
Can I use nut milk or plant milk? You can make vegan cottage cheese by substituting soy milk for cow’s milk in this recipe. Other forms of plant or nut milk don’t work as well for this particular recipe.
Can I use canned milk to make cottage cheese? Or powdered milk? You can’t make cottage cheese from canned, evaporated, or powdered milk because the processing involved has changed the milk’s proteins.
Can I use lactose-free milk to make cottage cheese? Or lower-carb milk? Neither lactose-free milk nor “low carb” milk work to make cottage cheese. Both of these forms of milk have been through treatments that change the milk too much for it to form curds.
Why are my curds small? There are many reasons why your homemade cottage cheese curds may come out small or grainy. The most common reason is not reaching the appropriate temperature. To make cottage cheese without rennet, the milk needs to reach 190°F, which is just below boiling. (See the video for a visual cue of what milk looks like at that point.) Other things that can cause small curds include not draining it long enough, not rinsing it thoroughly, or not squeezing the ball well enough when shaping it.
Can I use a different kind of vinegar? Or lemon juice? Making cottage cheese at home requires some form of acidic ingredient. This recipe calls for white vinegar, but you can also use apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Note, however, that the flavor may change as a result so you might need to add less salt or even a pinch of sugar at the end.
Can I skip the salt? Absolutely. The salt in homemade cottage cheese is just there for flavor. If you prefer, you can skip it or use a salt alternative.
Can I skip the cream? The cream gets added to homemade cottage cheese in step 7 solely for flavor. If you prefer a low-fat cottage cheese made from non-fat or skim milk, you may want to reserve a few spoonfuls of whey to add at the end so it’s not dry. Alternatively, you can stir in a few spoons of buttermilk, coconut milk, or even your favorite coffee creamer.
Can I add flavors? Yes, you can add flavors to your homemade cottage cheese recipe. Some people like to add chives or other fresh herbs. Others like sweat cottage cheese and add pineapple, strawberries, or blueberries. You can even add sugar or maple syrup. To make flavored cottage cheese, stir in your additives in Step 7 when you stir in the cream.
Where to Next?