It has been raining here in Napa (hooray!) so I’ve had time for some rainy-day projects, like homemade cottage cheese. I had forgotten how easy it was, and how delicious. Twenty years ago, Sue Conley—the co-founder of Cowgirl Creamery —shared her stovetop recipe with me. I made it then, used it for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle and then forgot about it.
In the two decades since, Cowgirl Creamery has become one of the nation’s leading artisan cheese producers. Its cottage cheese (recently re-introduced after a long absence) has a cult following. When I stumbled on the old Chronicle story while searching my files for something else, I just had to make that cottage cheese again. You can, too.
It takes about 24 hours to culture the milk, then about 45 minutes of attention at the stove. (Read a book while you’re stirring.) You’ll be thrilled with your result. The curds have a lively sour-cream tang and are quite delicate.
Great ways to enjoy it
For breakfast with fresh or poached fruit
For brunch with smoked salmon and bagels
For lunch with radishes, cucumbers, scallions, dill and garlic (add cherry tomatoes in summer)
For dinner on pasta. Mix cottage cheese with some softened butter, salt, pepper and grated Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino. Thin with hot pasta water. Toss with pasta and chives.
Homemade Cottage Cheese
You will need two large non-aluminum pots, one that fits inside the other. The smaller one holds the milk. The larger one contains hot water to create a water bath. You will also need an instant-read thermometer and some cheesecloth.
1 gallon skim milk
1 cup cultured buttermilk with live active bacteria and no additives or thickeners, plus more for thinning
¾ cup (6 ounces) crème fraiche
Fine sea salt or kosher salt
In the smaller pot, whisk together the skim milk and 1 cup buttermilk. Cover and let stand at warm room temperature (about 72°F) until the mixture looks like yogurt, 16 to 24 hours. If your house is cooler than that, wrap a blanket around the pot.
With a long knife, cut the curd every ½ inch vertically, then horizontally. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes.
Set the pot on a rack inside a larger pot and add water to the larger pot until it reaches the height of the milk. Set over low heat. Cook until the curd reaches 120°F, adjusting the heat so the curd temperature rises slowly, about one degree per minute, for a total heating time of about 45 minutes. If it’s rising too fast, slide the pot off of the burner for a bit. Stir once or twice with a rubber spatula until the curd reaches 90°F, then stir gently but constantly until it reaches 120°F.
Line a large sieve or colander with a triple thickness of cheesecloth. Gently scoop the curds into the sieve or colander and let drain while you fill a small sink or large bowl with ice water.
Gather the cheesecloth into a pouch and swish it in the ice water, loosening your grip enough that the water can rinse all the curds without them escaping. Return the pouch to the sieve or colander and let drain for 1 hour.
Gently transfer the curds to a bowl. In another bowl, thin the crème fraiche with buttermilk to the consistency of heavy cream. Season well with salt, then add this dressing to the curds, stirring very gently with a spatula. Taste for salt, then refrigerate.
For best flavor, enjoy the cottage cheese within 3 to 4 days, but it will last for at least 1 week in the refrigerator.
Makes about 5 cups or a scant 2 pounds