Which brand would Little Miss Muffet choose?
June 20, 2007
When Little Miss Muffet sat eating her curds and whey, it’s a safe bet that she didn’t have the choice between California and Vermont styles.
It seems that people who love cottage cheese are very interested in the texture as well as the taste. Some brands are creamy, others dry, a few downright lumpy. Companies have code words for the size of their curds and the texture of their product. California-style (Friendship, a New York dairy, uses this expression) refers to a drier cottage cheese, Vermont-style (as in Cabot Creamery) refers to a creamy mixture with defined curds. Most companies indicate curd size on the container, but you have to know each company’s lingo.
Cottage cheese is made from whole and skim milk that has varying degrees of fat. During a heating and resting process, curds form and mass together. Whey is the liquid that remains and is often drained. Cream, salt, and sometimes modified cornstarch are added.
Nine tasters tried five brands of 4 percent minimum fat cottage cheese (not low-fat). We chased it with cantaloupe chunks and celery sticks.
Creamier cottage cheeses fared well among the tasters, with the big winner Hood Country Style Small Curd Cottage Cheese. Tie for least favorite went to two brands, Cabot and Friendship. Two tasters asked to check the sell date for Cabot because they were certain the cheese was beyond the date (there were three weeks to go). It tasted rancid, they said, but another thought the same cottage cheese “divine.” Friendship was the driest. “See, this is what gives cottage cheese a bad name,” someone said. Surprisingly, the organic brand, Horizon, has the longest list of ingredients, and at $3.79 for a 1-pound carton, is the most expensive. Although participants are urged not to make any comments during the tasting (they write down their impressions), I heard an occasional “mmm” from somewhere around the table. One of the tasters later confessed that she was in heaven eating a particular cottage cheese she only buys in the low-fat variety. She said that in comparison, the taste was almost like ice cream. She was later seen loitering around the leftovers.
Breakstone’s Small Curd Smooth & Creamy Cottage Cheese
$2.99 for 1-pound container
Some tasters found it slightly sweeter than others, with a “light flavor.” Another: “Taste is blander. It tastes healthier, which I guess is the reason you eat this stuff in the first place. Curd is good size and consistency. Looks healthy and natural.” But the texture drew negatives: “It is drier than others and chunky in comparison. I could see this with salty foods, crackers, and as a dip for veggies.” One taster described this brand as “clumpy,” and said it looks “like oatmeal.”
Cabot Vermont Style Cottage Cheese
$1.99 for 1-pound container
“Too salty, almost tastes off, too yellow and quite moist,” was the gist of the comments. This brand received three worst votes, and strong opinions like “nasty and acidic. Mushy.” Many thought it had a sour flavor and “not a good aftertaste. Two mouthfuls are quite enough!” I checked the date at this point and smelled it. The date was fine and it wasn’t rancid. Texture complaints: “Lack of distinct curds,” “several misshapen clumps.” The best of the comments pronounced it bland.
Hood Country Style Small Curd Cottage Cheese Winner
$1.99 for 1-pound container
Won accolades from most of our tasters. “Creamy” popped up on most of the comments. “Yummy! Nice creamy texture, slightly sweet.” “Looks like it has a good consistency. Cheese bits are a bit firm, could be softer, but liquid-to-cheese ratio is good. Good flavor, good amount of salt.” And the color drew attention from several: “the whitest white, nice soft, fresh, grainy.” “Just enough tang and salt.” Finally: the amount of liquid made this brand “goopy.”
Horizon Organic Small Curd Cottage Cheese
$3.79 for 1-pound container
For an organic product, Horizon has a long ingredient list. Tasters noticed “very large well-shaped curds. Creamier pleasant mouth feel but not much taste. It’s pretty though!” “Tasty and refreshing.” “Larger chunks and more liquid. I love it.” Several didn’t: “Too wet. Flavor is bland, kind of sour – not desirable.” “Looks like noodles, larger bits, not much taste.” “Huge curd, very little cream, powdery to chew. Taste is a little acidic, a little rancid perhaps?” (It wasn’t.) This taster compared a sour taste to “the memory of lost love.” Even cottage cheese tasting can get dramatic.
Friendship California Style Cottage Cheese
$2.79 for 1-pound container
This brand split the least-favorite honors with Cabot. Friendship’s dry texture was completely different than the others and was more reminiscent of pot cheese and farmer’s cheese (basically well-drained cottage cheese) that I remember growing up in New York. “Curds are too tiny and clumped together.” “The driest of them all.” “More of a cheesy taste than the others.” “Doesn’t have as fresh a taste as some of the others.” “Taste is OK, kind of cheesy versus sour.” One person liked the “compact clumps and mild flavor.” This cottage cheese has the fewest ingredients, and no additives, simply milk, cream, and salt.