Food, like music and clothes, can cycle in and out of fashion. What was ubiquitous a few years ago gets replaced with something new, either to disappear forever or reappear in another context.
Cottage cheese has taken its spin around the wheel of popularity more than once, going from frugal farm food to a high-profile diet food in the 1960s, then relegated to the back of the dairy case until the recent interest in high-protein diets brought it back out of obscurity. With more protein than Greek yogurt, cottage cheese is getting a makeover by many dairy brands that now offer on-the-go cups or package it with crunchy mix-ins.
In principle, those ’60s versions of cottage cheese sound pretty good: a healthy scoop of cottage cheese was usually plopped over fruit; pineapple or peaches were the standards. As the dieting world shifted to reducing fat in food items, cottage cheese got left behind.
It didn’t help that cottage cheese’s biggest fan was President Richard Nixon. It was his usual daily lunch in the White House, according to many historians. When he left Washington in disgrace, cottage cheese’s reputation dimmed, too.
Now, however, cottage cheese is back in the big leagues, thanks to its outstanding nutritional profile. One cup contains 28 grams of protein and sizable amounts of calcium and phosphorus, both of which are important in building strong bones. Because it is considered a fresh, not aged, cheese, many brands have live cultures of “good” bacteria or probiotics that can promote a healthy digestive system.
Like many cheeses, cottage cheese can be high in sodium. Lower-sodium types are available, but on average, a one-cup serving will contain almost a third of the recommended daily sodium intake.
Not everyone likes the lumpy texture and monotone color of cottage cheese; even President Nixon sometimes resorted to adding catsup to inject some color. It’s still possible to get those health benefits by adding cottage cheese to other dishes.
Cottage cheese pancakes, made with just three ingredients, are a gluten-free breakfast or brunch treat. With oats as a binder, they stay fluffier than most flour-free pancakes, and are sweet enough to eat without syrup.
A slightly more complicated cottage cheese dough makes airy rolls that can be served for dinner, sliced for mini sandwiches, or made for breakfast. The no-yeast dough is soft and sticky, but can be made in advance and refrigerated. The rolls are best while still warm, or frozen and reheated.
Whipped cottage cheese also makes a higher-protein substitute for cream cheese, and with the addition of other ingredients can be the basis of a satisfying dip for vegetables or sturdy chips. Shelled edamame gives one such dip a bright-green, guacamole-like color that is the polar opposite of cottage cheese’s all-white natural state, and chiles, lime juice and cilantro add a spicy bite.