When I was a kid, my mom would mix cottage cheese into pasta or eat it straight from a bowl, doctored up with lemon zest and cinnamon. In the early ’70s, the average American consumed around five pounds of cottage cheese each year, and former President Nixon enjoyed his with pineapple. In more recent decades, however, cottage cheese lost its luster as yogurt exploded in popularity. Still, it kept its boomer cred as a health food even as diet trends came and went: Cottage cheese is high in protein and low in sugar, calories, and carbs.
My mom’s health food retained its old-school, diet-y vibe — until now. Now big on TikTok, the hashtag #cottagecheese has amassed over 675 million views, beating out #butterboard. New cottage cheese brands are popping up and appealing to the Gen Z food-loving crowd. The humble curds are even making their way onto fancy restaurant menus. This grocery store staple is getting a serious glow-up — and suddenly it is in the zeitgeist more than ever.
New Love for An Old Staple
Like ricotta, mozzarella, and feta, cottage cheese is a fresh cheese made from curd, which is the result of coagulating milk. Yet it’s entirely unique in its production. “It is one of the only lactic curds that is also cooked to form a firmer curd,” explains Dave Potter, vice president of Dairy Connection in Madison, Wisc., a company that sells cultures and enzymes to cheesemakers. “After, cream is added back for flavor and texture.”
That gives cottage cheese its signature mild flavor and bouncy texture, which has found a renewed fan base. “I have been getting so many requests for cottage cheese from retailers,” says Sheana Davis, owner of the cheese wholesaler Epicurean Connection, in Sonoma, Calif. “It’s truly fascinating.”
The threefold social media, restaurant, and retail revival has led to cottage cheese tubs flying off supermarket shelves. As a new generation discovers the old(er) generation’s standby, it’s cottage cheese’s moment to shine.
Why now? It seems like a bit of a paradox, but it is exactly cottage cheese’s purity and plainness that makes it so exciting to food lovers. Health influencer Johannes Cullberg folds them into overnight oats, then adds cocoa and instant coffee for a tiramisu flavor. Blogger Eating with Kirby mixes a tub with eggs and fresh herbs before scrambling them into fluffy, cheesy goodness. Dietician and wellness influencer Jess Bippen makes a high-protein caramelized French onion dip with cottage cheese as its base.
Cottage cheese also stars in mac and cheese and gets whipped into a fluffy cloud. Whirring it in the food processor gives it a buoyant lightness.
“Cottage cheese is a very versatile product that can be a main protein source,” Potter says. “Even though it has a standard identity, it also has many variations in flavors and textures to suit many different preferences around the country.”
However, he adds that cottage cheese’s recent rise goes back to its roots: “I really think it is the mild, low-acidic flavor with a mild salty taste.”
Good and Good For You
The health aspect of cottage cheese is another reason for its popularity. As culture shifts away from diet talk and into themes of wellness and whole foods, cottage cheese fits the bill.
It’s a whole food with a short list of pronounceable ingredients: milk, salt, and cultures. Full fat cottage cheese is only 4% fat, whereas other cheeses, like cheddar, are about 30% fat, according to UC Davis. It has more protein per cup than Greek yogurt, and less fat.
It also ticks the boxes for many factors health conscious shoppers look for: It’s low in sugar, has minimal calories, and is known to support a healthy gut. (As with other fermented foods, cottage cheese is packed with probiotics. Check the label for live active cultures.)
Tubs You Won’t Want to Walk By
The humdrum cottage cheese brand standbys in the dairy aisle are now competing with cool new brands with minimalist labels and big brand claims. Leading the way is Jesse Merrill, cofounder and CEO of Good Culture, a new cottage cheese brand that I like to think of as the Chobani of cottage cheese.
“Cottage cheese was an overlooked fermented superfood with more protein and less sugar than yogurt, but it lacked relevant innovation and brand appeal,” Merrill says. “The majority of the products on shelf were loaded with additives, like gums and preservatives; sourced their milk from confined animals; and mostly came in large, outdated tubs with little to no flavor options.”
Plus, the experience was lacking from a texture and flavor standpoint; Merrill found a lot of the big brands to taste meh. “I saw an opportunity to reimagine a very sleepy $1.1 billion category that was larger than yogurt in the 1970s,” he reflected.
He’s not alone in the recent revival of cottage cheese. Legacy brands are rebranding and celebrating their offerings, like Cabot Creamery. The cheese cooperative and B-Corp based in Vermont is made with a mixture of smaller and larger curds that results in an extra creamy cottage cheese. Recently, Cabot renewed its focus on the cottage cheese through updated packaging and marketing efforts to meet the rising demand.
Cottage Cheese Mania in the Kitchen
The possibilities for putting cottage cheese to delicious use are nearly endless. Its mild flavor makes it ideal in both sweet and savory dishes. Some ideas: Substitute cottage cheese for ricotta in lasagna for a slightly lighter texture and plenty of richness. Whip cottage cheese in the blender with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand and fresh lemon juice — this makes an excellent sandwich spread or an airy, flavorful dip. Add a dollop to your quiche for savory flavor and a lovely lightness.
Cottage cheese also makes the perfect base for a breakfast bowl. Build a sweet version with berries, nuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon, or a savory take with sliced cucumber, tomatoes, and a hard-boiled egg.
In my own house, we make tender, fluffy cottage cheese pancakes, cottage cheese dip with ranch seasoning (get out the crudité and the chips), or cottage cheese toast (top with cucumbers and radishes, or slices of smoked salmon). It’s delicious, versatile, healthy, and simple, proving that cottage cheese is cut out to be more than just a fad.