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Tasting Panel: Cottage Cheese

Fine Cooking Issue 88
Photos: Scott Phillips
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A creamy, tangy addition to mixed salads and a perfect accompaniment to fresh fruit, cottage cheese is also used to tenderize baked goods in lieu of sour cream (in, for instance, author Kathy Kingsley’s fast cinnamon rolls). To find out which brands are best to buy, 11 Fine Cooking staffers participated in a blind tasting of 10 widely available cottage cheeses: five made with whole milk and five made with low-fat milk. While results were far from unanimous, our panel gravitated toward a moister, looser style of cottage cheese. Unsurprisingly, whole-milk cheeses had higher overall scores than low-fat ones. Read on to find out our favorites in each category.

Whole-milk (Listed in order of preference; prices may vary)

1. Breakstone’s ($3.39-16 oz.)
Rich and creamy with a good sweet-and-sour balance (it reminded some of sour cream) and a pleasant, lingering flavor, this cottage cheese got top marks. We also liked its smooth, creamy texture with uniform curds.

2. Horizon ($3.99-16 oz.)
This cottage cheese had huge curds that looked a bit like small pebbles. Despite its unusual appearance, it had a rich milk flavor, a good salt balance, and a nice yogurt-like tanginess. And the intimidating curds ended up being quite soft to the bite.

3. Friendship ($3.99-16 oz.)
If you’re a fan of a drier style of cottage cheese, look no further. This one’s for you, though it was too dry and heavy for some panelists. And while several thought it tasted fresh and pleasantly tangy, for others it was a bit too sour and salty.

4. Organic Valley ($4.49-16 oz.)
The mild, uninteresting flavor and watery, mushy texture of this cottage cheese didn’t make it a favorite. “It tastes like it could be low-fat,” said one taster. The chewy texture and uneven size of the curds didn’t help either.

5. Cabot ($2.69-16 oz.)
This cottage cheese didn’t win much praise with its soupy texture and unevenly sized curds. The flavor was clean but bland with a slightly bitter finish. It would also benefit from a little more salt.

Low-fat (Listed in order of preference; prices may vary.)

1. Friendship ($2.69-16 oz.)
The pronounced milk flavor, good salt balance, and pleasant tanginess of this cottage cheese won us over and made us almost forget it was low-fat. The texture was on the dry side, but the flavor was by far the best of the bunch.

2. Breakstone’s ($3.27-16 oz.)
This cottage cheese had a decent milk flavor and a pleasant “watermelon-like” hint of sweetness. But it was the thin, watery texture and soft, mushy curds that threw us off.

3. Light n’ Lively ($3.27-24 oz.)
The good looks and creamy texture of this cottage cheese are undeniable, but we found it disappointing in the flavor department. It was too salty and had a vaguely grassy quality and a slightly processed aftertaste.

4. Organic Valley ($4.99-16 oz.)
This loose, watery cottage cheese had a strange slippery texture and soft curds that fell apart easily. Its flavor, too, was unimpressive. Bland and waterlogged, it still managed to be both too sour and too salty.

5. Horizon ($3.99-16 oz.)
Too “lean-tasting,” this cottage cheese didn’t deliver the full milk flavor we expect, even from low-fat cheeses. Just like its whole-milk counterpart, it had huge, pebble-like curds, but these were dry and rubbery.

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