Cottage Cheese

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:

    2 pounds


Appears in

Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking

Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking

By Craig Claiborne

Published 1987

  • About

The back porch of my home in the tiny town in which I was born served as the setting for one of the glories of the past—cottage cheese freshly made from the milk of a herd of family cows. The milk would be put into a churn, stoneware utensil, or urn with a loose-fitting stoneware lid, covered, and let stand overnight. The milk would curdle because of natural bacteria and have a coating of thick yellow cream on top. We would skim off the cream and add the snow-white curds to cheesecloth that would be tied into a bag, then left to hang above a bowl. The whey would drip into the bowl, and when the cheesecloth bag was opened, it would be filled with pure, homemade cottage cheese. My father adored this for lunch or an afternoon snack. He would spoon it into a bowl and add heavy cream and sugar to taste.

You cannot make that cottage cheese with pasteurized milk alone; the natural bacteria will not work properly. You can, however, make a somewhat poorer version using buttermilk as a culture.

My method yields a somewhat firmer, larger-curd cheese than an all-buttermilk recipe.


  • 1 gallon skimmed milk, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup cultured buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon salt, approximately
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream, optional


  1. Mix milk and buttermilk in a large stainless steel, glass, enamel, or ceramic bowl. Cover and set in a warm place (80-90 degrees Fahrenheit, if possible) until the milk has become the consistency of custard, and whey has begun to collect around the edges. This will take 16 to 24 hours.
  2. Gently skim or pour off as much whey as possible.
  3. Cut down through the curds at 1-inch intervals in two directions, making a crisscross pattern. Then make another row of cuts slanting down through the curds, to roughly cube them.
  4. Place the bowl over, not in, a kettle of warm water. Put a dairy thermometer (or a candy or frying thermometer that registers 100 degrees Fahrenheit) into the curds and heat very, very slowly, mixing every 5 minutes or so, until the thermometer registers between 100 and 110 degrees. The water should heat so slowly that this procedure takes about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to sit for 20 minutes.
  5. Transfer the curds to a sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth. For creamy cottage cheese, allow them to drain for 5 to 10 minutes. The longer the cheese drains, the more compact it will become. The texture will be smoother and less like cottage cheese if it is mixed to break up the curds.
  6. Season the cheese with salt to taste and, if desired, stir in the cream. Refrigerate and use within 2 to 3 days.