The Fine Art of Making Cottage Cheese

I started writing this post in June of 2013 and have yet to make a good, tasty batch of cottage cheese. Here is what I wrote back then.

“I have yet to be successful making cottage cheese. It is either more like ultra thick yogurt, tiny little curd crumbs or rubbery. Sound appetizing? Not, really. But…..I still want to be able to make it, so succeed or fail, I am going to try again and let you see how it goes. Who knows, maybe there is someone out there reading that knows how to do this and can help me out. That would be a real blessing.

This recipe calls for one gallon of whole milk, buttermilk and rennet. It is really a pretty simple process.” 

I still have yet to make a good cottage cheese. I didn’t even try for a year or so, since it never turned out edible. Well, last week I decided it was time to try again. I used the same book, same recipe and got the same results…..again. The curd was too done, rubbery and squeaked in my teeth. There was no flavor to speak of and the consistency was yucky.

After that attempt I got out my other cheese making books and compared the recipes. The main difference was not letting the curd sit at 110* for 30 minutes after it was heated up. I hoped that eliminating that 30 minute time frame would allow the curds to stay in a softer state, similar to store bought cottage cheese. It’s hard to describe, but if you picture the consistency of store bought cottage cheese curds, they are soft, pliable and kind of juicy inside. I know, poor description, but I can’t think of a better way to compare theirs and mine. 

I made another batch of cottage cheese today. It’s better, but still rather rubbery, lacking the soft, pliable texture I am looking for. Here is what I did.

1 gallon of skimmed goat milk heated to 86*
Add 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
Add 1/4 cup water to which 1/4 tsp. of rennet was added
Stir for 30 seconds
Let sit and ripen for 1 hour at 86*
Cut the curd into 1/2″ cubes
Slowly heat curd to 110*

Okay. This is where the cheese books differed. Two of them indicated that the next step is too drain the curd instead of letting it sit and ‘cook’ at 110*, so that’s what I did today.

When I poured the curd and whey into a cheese cloth lined colander, the consistency of the curd was very nice and reminded me somewhat of store bought cottage cheese. I was happy. But as soon as I poured it into the colander to drain, it’s like the curds released all of their interior moisture, matted up and became chewy and squeaky again. Rats!

The next step is supposed to be to let the whey drain, then dip the cheese cloth with the curds into cold water to cool them, and let them drain again. Which I did, but the curds had already changed. It’s this change or step that I am trying to figure out. How do I prevent the curds from releasing their moisture/liquid/whey? Cool them quicker? I’m not sure. I’ll have to experiment some more.

The good news is that it tastes better this time. I crumbled up the curd, since it was trying to mat together. It’s just the nature of the curd to want to mat together. I added 1/2 tsp. of salt and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cream I had skimmed from the milk before I started.

Frank and I did a taste test before I put it into the fridge to chill. We’ll see how it tastes later on, then again tomorrow. My first attempt the other day ended up as pig food, so it wasn’t a complete loss. This one may end up the same way. I may even share some with the chickens, too.

If you have any recommendations, I sure would like to hear them. I know there are other ways to make cottage cheese, like leaving it out on the cabinet for a few days and letting it curdle. I’m not brave enough to try that one yet. I guess I still want to have a little more control over the process. Not that I don’t have sauerkraut and kefir sitting out on the cabinet all the time, it’s just different than two or three day old curdled milk.

I’ll keep you updated on my cottage cheese making progress, and hopefully it won’t be two years before I try again. I’d like to be able to master this technique. It’s kind of like learning to make bread. Frank and I have eaten a bunch of heavy, heavy flat whole wheat bread. We call it brick bread. Almost edible, but not very good. That was part of my learning to make a consistently, good loaf of bread. Then I started making sourdough bread. Yes, we have had a few rather heavy batches, and one that was too sour to eat. Now is the time to master making good, edible cottage cheese, so please help me out if you can.

Until next time – Fern

20 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Making Cottage Cheese

  1. Kymber, I wonder if you have hit upon a piece of the puzzle. The cheese curds from cheddar (I think that's what you use in poutine too) are only rubbery and squeak for a day or two after being made. I wonder Fern if you let the curds sit for a couple days if they would \”cure\” into more of the consistency that you are looking for? The weird shapes of curds that Kymber mentions isn't exactly natural. The natural curd is more like what you show for your your cottage cheese (maybe slightly bigger, at least for cheddar, Colby is smaller but done differently) it is allowed to sit in the vat for a while to compact after the whey is drained off. Once it is more compacted it is cut into slabs then run through a machine that cut it into the \”curds\”. As Kymber says, they MUST squeak and be rubbery! There is nothing better that warm, squeaky curds right out of the vat and freshly salted!!! Oh my! I'll be going home to Wisconsin to visit in a month. Will have to find some fresh curds!

  2. Thank you Kathy for sharing your experiences with your mother and grandmother. We have lost so much wisdom from previous generations. It is wonderful to hear from those who remember doing it the old way. I have clabbered raw milk like you describe without using rennet, only the natural enzymes in the raw milk. By the time It separated into the curds and whey the curds had too strong of a flavor and no one cared for it. I've heard that if you use raw milk that is starting to sour in the frig, it helps but so far I've not had any that taste like commercial cottage cheese. I'm wondering if traditionally it was made with the clabbered milk but our tastes have adjusted to the commercial variety with all the additives so the \”real\” version just doesn't taste right. Years ago I worked for about 5 years in a small rural cheese factory where we did use rennet in the milk, but it was pasteurized milk. Unfortunately we didn't make cottage cheese, only cheddar, Colby and Mozzarella.

  3. Very interesting, Vickie. A friend of ours also likes it squeaky. I guess it's just a texture thing, I don't know. Thanks for sharing. There have been some good resources listed in the comments this time, and that's great.Fern

  4. I love reading through all the comments because I end up with quite a few resources and recipes to make cottage cheese! When my husband and I travel to Sonora to visit my son we always stop by a small craft cheesemaking business. They make gouda and smoked gouda, but our favorite product to buy from them is their squeeky cheese curds! It's the trimmings from the cheese as it is formed into wheels, is unripened, and they sell it in 1 pound bags. We love the squeek and our grandchildren devour it!

  5. Have you looked at Carla Emery's \”Encyclopedia of Country Living\”. Pages 748 and 749. Lots of good info on cottage cheese. I typed a bit of it here but it disappeared. Do you have this book?

  6. Fern – i am going to have to learn from you how to make those awesome curds – up here – people will pay over $6 for a very small package of properly made cheese curds and they MUST squeak! and be rubbery! i can't believe that you don't love your own home-made cheese curds – they must be sooo delicious! but each to their own and taste and liking!i sure wouldn't mind if you tried to mail me some of yours – bahahahahah!

  7. Very interesting recipe, Sandy, I may have to try that one. The technique of cooling the curds in cold water and squeezing them makes sense to me. It's worth a try. Thanks!Fern

  8. Ok, Kymber, you and Tewshooz both crack me up! I could mail you some curds, but in our 100+F temperatures, it would be very stinky before it made it up into the cool weather of your area. Honestly, I can't imagine why someone would insist that cheese curds squeak in your teeth. It's yucky! I don't find that plain curd has much flavor, but they're very easy to make. You should try it. Then you will be able to sell or barter them since they are popular there.Fern

  9. Anonymous, thank you for the explanation and the link to New England Cheese Making. They have an abundance of information on their website about cheese making along with the products they sell.Fern

  10. Hi Kathy. We don't pasteurize our milk, and every recipe I have calls for rennet as part of the curd producing process. I don't have Joy of Cooking to reference, but I do have several cheese making books that I have compared recipes in. Thank you for sharing your experiences.Fern

  11. Thank you for the resource, Shannon. It's interesting that you would send this one. It's the same article another person sent us just the other day. Interesting method, but I'm not ready to leave the milk sitting out on the cabinet like that. At least not yet. It is encouraging that this is how you do it, though. Thank you very much for sharing.Fern

  12. Fern, and Frank,The only thing I know about cottage cheese is from a recipe I had pulled of the web to try( at a later time) , and haven't tried it yet. It's from Alton Brown, on the Food Network. He states after making the cottage cheese if you're going to eat it immediately to stir in half & half or heavy cream. If you're not going to eat immediately store it in a seal-able container in the refrigerator. Then when time to eat add half and half or or heavy cream before serving. It's an easy recipe, I've attached it below. sounds to me like you have the curds exactly the way you want them, and you may just have to add the dairy when time to eat the cottage cheese. This probably didn't help you but thought I would mention it.I hope your cottage cheese eventually turns out the way you want it to.Hugs,Sandy

  13. oh my goodness Fern – the very first picture of the rubbery cottage cheese that you don't like is what we call \”cheese curds\” up here and if you made them up here you could sell them for a very pretty sum. most canadians love cheese curds but they HAVE to be weird shapes and sizes, rubbery as a rubber ball and they MUST squeak like a little mouse between your teeth. one famous canadian food is called \”poutine\” and you make it with homemade french fries, homemade gravy and you guessed it – cheese curds! oh i love poutine. and i would love your cheese curds.but i understand that you are looking for a more store-bought consistency. but oh my goodness – you are making cheese curds!!! can you mail them to me??? bahahahahah!keep practicing and trying. i don't make cheese but i love to learn about how others do it. your friend,kymber

  14. Kathy, rennet contains enzymes that cause milk to become cheese, by separating it into the solid curds and the liquid whey. Pasteurizing milk is to heat up the milk to kill off pathogens that might be in the milk. You can use pasteurized milk to make cheese, but many cheese makers prefer to use raw milk because of the better flavor. Ultra pasteurized milk is very difficult (and I would say impossible) to use in making cheese. Rennet is used to make most cheeses, whether it is from pasteurized or raw milk.Here is a cheese making web site that I trust that explains it better:

  15. I do not make cottage cheese as watching it being made is probably what made me a non dairy girl!! Having said that, I did spend quite a lot of time with an unsympathetic mother who did not think my squeamishness about clabbered milk was a good excuse for not helping, as I recall she handed me a clothespin…and I'm pretty sure she wasn't joking! My question for you would be then -are you using pasteurized milk? If not, then what is the rennet for? I did check my \”Joy of Cooking\” and it agreed with me that the rennet is for pasteurized milk. The other thing is to be really gentle, in the old days they stirred the clabbering milk with their fingers so as not to break the curds. (you are beginning to see the roots of my dislike?) I also check the book as I thought grandma rinsed her curds and then drained. The last thing grandma did was add back in some cream to give it the consistency grandad liked and it was like the store brands. Don't know if that will help, sounds like maybe it can't hurt? Hope it turns out well!

  16. Tewshooz, you crack me up, and for that I am thankful! At this rate we may just have to do without cottage cheese forever. Making soap is something we still haven't done. I think it will have to wait until winter. There are just too many things that need to be done during the summer, so that experience will have to wait in line along with a dozen other things. Thank you for the laugh and the comment.Fern

  17. Well, I am learning with you. When you get it like you want, then I will try. I figure if you can't get it to do what you want, I certainly can't either. However, today I made soap….that I am good at. Unfortunately, I can't eat it., lol

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