What is cottage cheese and how to use it in the kitchen: the most versatile substitute for yogurt and richer in protein
Fresh cheeses, often viewed with a certain disdain by lovers of the intensity of the most cured ones, have regained prominence by associating themselves with healthy trends. Low in fat and high in protein, they also deserve to claim their gastronomic qualities in the kitchen, beyond the calories. Cottage cheese has managed to carve out a niche in our country, competing with cottage cheese and ricotta, with which it shares many qualities, but from which it differs with its own characteristics.
All three, along with others such as mozzarella, burrata, the more compact generic fresh cheese or the Burgos type, stand out precisely for their nutritional profile and mild flavor, with a subtle and pleasant dairy aroma. They are cheeses that do not undergo the necessary storage for curing. Therefore, they present a much more perishable product, of shorter conservation and that must be packaged correctly, always in refrigeration.
But it is obvious that ricotta is clearly different from mozzarella and its peers. Along with cottage cheese, what sets these varieties apart is that grainy texture that accompanies the neutral flavor. Spanish and Italian are actually "fake" cheeses, as they are obtained from whey and in a similar way to yogurt, thanks to the fermentation of lactic acid bacteria. The homemade version can even be made simply by cutting the milk with an acid, such as lemon juice.
Cottage cheese and ricotta are almost interchangeable - although they are not identical, and in fact there are different varieties of ricotta, such as smoked or salted - but cottage cheese deserves a separate attention.
Characteristics and preparation of cottage cheese
Traditional cottage cheese is made by enzymatic coagulation, adding rennet to milk at a specified temperature. The rennet enzymes break down the milk proteins causing coagulation, creating the curd and thus appearing solid clots. With an elastic and flexible texture, those clots can be cut and handled depending on the cheese being produced, partially or completely separated from the whey.
In this dairy, the clots are kept separate, the mixture is not pressed into molds. Depending on the origin and the specific manufacture, the texture can be drier or more humid, with thicker or smaller clots. It is a preparation so simple and of humble origin that it admits many variants, also depending on the use that is going to be given or the type of milk with which it is made.
There are also versions of the cottage produced by lactic coagulation, adding an acid to the milk, thus obtaining a variant very similar to cottage cheese or ricotta, but from milk and not whey.
Other ingredients are often added to curdled cheese to produce specific versions, especially today in its industrial or commercial version. There are variants of salty and sweet cottage, in brine, enriched with cream or buttermilk (buttermilk). Given the growing popularity of this product in recent years, many brands also market lactose-free and skimmed versions.
Properties and benefits of cottage cheese
The nutritional properties of cottage cheese vary minimally from one brand or producer to another, as long as we take the most natural version as a reference. Like most fresh cheeses, it is very low in fat, low in cholesterol, low in carbohydrates (with less sugar than yogurt) and rich in high quality protein.
It usually contributes between 95-110 kcal per 100 g of edible portion, with up to 13 g of proteins, mostly lean. These values highlight why it has become a fashionable food in many countries, after decades of something forgotten as an old-fashioned product or associated with local traditions. Protein and low-calorie foods continue to set the trend in weight loss diets and among athletes.
Cottage is a low calorie cheese rich in protein and minerals
Beyond these virtues, it also stands out for its contribution of essential minerals, such as calcium or potassium, and vitamins. In addition, it contains more liquid than soft or aged cheeses, also less sodium than highly aged cheeses. It is a very satisfying but easily digestible food, usually well tolerated by people with intolerance or slight sensitivity to lactose, especially when accompanied by other foods.
How to use it in the kitchen
Cottage cheese has become an alternative to yogurt, the so-called skim whipped cheese or skyr. Thus, nowadays the simplest and most common way to consume it is directly by spoonfuls, combined with fruits, nuts, seeds, cereals, compotes, syrups or honey, sometimes adding a little milk if it is a too dry version .
But this product, with its neutral flavor and thick grainy texture, is also perfect for spreading on slices of bread, with sweeter or savory garnishes. In Europe it is very common to consume it for breakfast or cold lunch, with pepper and chopped chives, often accompanied by pickles, radishes or hard-boiled egg.
It can also be combined with dressings and vinaigrettes to give a creamy touch to salads and fillings for sandwiches and sandwiches, or to create sauces that accompany meat, fish or pasta. It is, of course, a good substitute for cottage cheese and ricotta in Italian recipes such as lasagna or cannelloni, or as a filling for vegetables and savory quiche-type cakes, or puff pastry and empanadas.
Perhaps its granulated texture is not the most suitable alternative to yogurt in a smoothie, but it does give great results in smoothie bowls or mixed with fruit purees and cold oats. It does substitute very well for mayonnaise in preparations such as stuffed eggs or to lighten up a Russian salad or German-style potato salad.
Its texture makes it ideal for versioning or enriching creams and spreads like dips, such as hummus of any flavor or a thick sauce like tzatziki. Another classic pairing is with eggs in any of its forms: omelettes and frittatas, scrambled eggs, soufflés, etc.
When hot, it can be used to dress pasta sauces and provide greater creaminess, or to top vegetable creams or also stews and stews; it is delicious both in a curry and in an American chili. As it has a neutral flavor, it serves us both to fill savory and sweet crêpes.
Of course, it is a very versatile ingredient in desserts. There are many traditional recipes from different European countries that use cottage cheese -or its local variants- in sweet bakery and pastry doughs, as a filling, accompaniment or integrated into the dough itself. Cottage cheese tarts or cakes are popular, with a less creamy texture than a cheesecake, almost more of a very fluffy cake.
It can be added integrated to doughs of pancakes, waffles, muffins, cookies, cakes, puddings, brownies, donuts ... or it can also be used as an ingredient in a filling, topping or to accompany sauce.
It is easy to correct the texture of the variety of cottage cheese that we have acquired, according to the desired use. If it is very dry, you just have to mix it well with milk or a little water; otherwise we can drain it with a cheesecloth. Very coarse granules can be easily mashed with a fork, mashed with any mixer.