Cottage cheese has long been known as one of the most popular products that come from milk and has played an essential role in the human diet for centuries. The ancient Mesopotamians made a type of salty, sour cheese – very similar to cottage cheese – that dates back to the 3rd Century B.C. Legend has it that it was invented by accident when a desert traveler filled his sheep stomach saddle bags with milk prior to beginning his journey. As the traveler and his camel traversed the hot environment, the sloshing of the warming milk inside the bags mixed with the natural rennet from the sheep stomach and produced tasty cheese curds that eventually became very popular in the region. Rennet is a cocktail of enzymes that, among other things, curdles the casein in milk and is found naturally in the stomachs of ruminant mammals.
It is generally believed that the “cottage” descriptor comes from early American settlers to identify a type of simple cheese that was regularly made in small country homes, often called “cottages”. In these homesteads, cooks set older, slightly soured milk – left over from butter making – near a fire or other warm place. Bacteria thrived in the warming milk, and after a day or two, it would transform the liquid milk into soft, lumpy white cheese. Some cooks would further treat the curd by cooking it dry and washing it with cold water, producing what is sometimes called pot cheese; others would mix in a bit of cream to add richness to the final product; while others would strain and press the curd, producing farmer’s cheese.
The first known documented use of the term “cottage cheese” appears in July of 1831 in “Godey’s Lady Book” a Philadelphia based magazine published by Louis Antoine Godey. Intended to entertain, inform and educate the women of America, Volume 3 of the publication included an article titled “Country Lodgings, A Sketch, by Miss Leslie”, in which reference is made to “a small glass dish of that preparation of curds, which in vulgar language is called smear-case, but whose nom de guerre is cottage-cheese”. Given that the author of the piece seemed to think the audience wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with the name “cottage cheese”, we can deduce that it was either a relatively new name or a regional one that the Lady’s Book’s wider readership might not be familiar.
Today, there are four types of commonly available milkfat cottage cheese products: nonfat, 1%, 2%, and regular (4%).
- Nonfat: While known and labeled as fat free or 0% cottage cheese, it can actually have up to 0.5% total fat and still be considered nonfat by the USDA. There are approximately 80 calories in a 1/2 cup.
- 1%: Often referred to as low-fat on the container, this cottage cheese contains 1% milkfat, 90 calories per 1/2 cup, a fat content of 1-1.5 grams.
- 2%: Is typically billed as reduced-fat cottage cheese with 2% milkfat, 100 calories per 1/2 cup and about 2.5 grams of fat.
- Regular (4%): Made from a minimum of 4% milkfat, regular cottage cheese is sometimes called creamed cottage cheese because of the cream that is added at the end of processing. This creamy concoction has about 110 calories in a 1/2 cup and at least 5 grams of fat.
There is an amazing number of health benefits associated with cottage cheese:
- It’s a good source of protein that, like many other dairy products, is high in dietary protein, and is associated with improved fat loss, muscle gain, recovery and athletic performance. 100g of cottage cheese (a relatively small portion) contains approximately 11-12g of protein and is approximately 20% of the average person’s daily requirements.
- It’s a good fat source whose profile is a good mix of high-quality saturated and unsaturated fats.
- Cottage cheese supports proper immune function and the health of skin and other tissues with 7% of our daily allowance of Vitamin A per 100g,
- It’s a calcium rich food that offers benefits including bone strengthening and weight loss, preventing osteoporosis and colon cancer, and helping the nervous system in sending nerve impulses.
- It reduces the risk of breast cancer with its high levels of calcium and vitamin D.
- It’s rich in B-complex vitamins which are helpful in various metabolic activities in our body including muscle building, fat loss, immune function and blood health. They include vitamin B12 (which is needed for proper brain functioning and iron absorption), riboflavin (for converting carbohydrates into energy), pantothenic acid (that acts as a synthesizer in forming proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids in our body), thiamin (for converting sugars into energy in the pyruvate dehydrogenase system), niacin (for its role in digestion, energy production, and cholesterol reduction), and folate (to help in fetal development in pregnant women, producing red blood cells, and keeping the heart healthy).
- It reduces cell damage and risks of prostate cancer with its abundance of selenium – a trace element which has profound antioxidant effects and may reduce the chances of developing cancers generally and cancer of the prostate, specifically.
- It’s a great source of magnesium that, in the human body acts as a catalyst in promoting biochemical reactions, activating various enzymes in the body, maintaining muscle and nerve functioning, supporting the immune system, assists in maintaining blood sugar levels and prevents heart attacks, constipation, psychiatric disorders, migraine, and collagen.
- It contains potassium which is an important component in neural activities of the muscle and brain. Intake of potassium on a regular basis prevents stroke risk (by lowering blood pressure and the contraction of vessels), decreases stress and anxiety levels, and relieves muscle cramps.
- Its level of zinc (a trace element found in the human brain, muscles, bones, kidneys, liver, prostate, and eyes) helps in the metabolism of DNA and RNA, improves the immune system and digestion, controls diabetes, relieves stress and anxiety, cures night blindness, improving ocular health, preventing appetite loss and prostate disorder, and fights various infections.
- It also contains phosphorus, which plays a major role in the formation of DNA and RNA, is a major component in forming bones along with calcium, helps in digestion and excretion, and in the production and extraction of energy in the cells.
- Cottage cheese has antioxidant properties thanks to the trace element selenium that is found in cottage cheese. Required by the body in only very small quantities (50 mcg to 70 mcg in adults), selenium is an antioxidant that protects cells and DNA from damage, reduces the risk of prostate cancer and may slightly extend the lives of people diagnosed with colon cancer.
A few delicious ways to enjoy cottage cheese:
- Serve it with fruit – a perennial favorite.
- Mix it with apple butter, nut butter, or … wait for it, peanut butter. Stir a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter into a half cup of cottage cheese.
- Stuff celery or dip a dollop onto whole grain toast or crackers.
- Add it to smoothies.
- Add it to pancake batter to make Cottage Cheese Pancakes, which are much higher in protein than regular ones and taste even more delicious.
- Make cheesecake muffins by stirring cottage cheese into muffin batter.
- Stir it into pasta. The cottage cheese gets warm and creamy and is especially good with lots of freshly ground pepper. Or, use it instead of ricotta cheese in lasagna, baked pasta, or baked ziti.
- Serve it on a baked potato with salsa.
- Fill up a hollowed-out beefsteak or Roma tomato. Or put some in a spooned-out melon.
- Spread it on toast or a bagel.
- Spread it on slices of apple or pears.
- Add a spoonful to your scrambled eggs for an amazing cheesy flavor with an extra dose of protein. Or, add some to your omelet or quiche.
- Use blended cottage cheese as a substitute for sour cream based dips.
- Season a bowl full with your favorite spice blend or some pesto.