3 of a Kind: Cottage Cheese
Call it the ultimate cottage industry: Cottage cheese is making its way onto the menus of top restaurants around the country. Long viewed as a sad and jokeworthy scoop at the salad bar, the curd-based ‘80s diet food has gotten a culinary overhaul and is lending texture and creaminess to upscale dishes for a result that’s anything but laughable.
“I grew to love cottage cheese based on nostalgia alone,” says Executive Chef Jason Stanhope. On long childhood road trips, Stanhope remembers ribbing his dad for eating cottage cheese with beets instead of more typical travel snacks. When he was recently looking for a novel take on ricotta, the memory inspired him. “I wanted something unpretentious and delicious to do with the great milk we get from two dairies in town,” he explained. “I’ve never personally had cottage cheese that didn’t come with plastic wrap on it.” After experimenting with the right tanginess and texture and eating a lot of cottage cheese at staff meals, Stanhope and his team perfected the recipe. Offered as an appetizer, the dish switches between sweeter and more savory preparations. Earlier in the season, Stanhope paired the cottage cheese with blackberries, peaches and radishes in a refreshing riff ringed by grassy olive oil and a cascade of pepper. As heirloom tomatoes reach the peak of freshness, look for a play on the classic pairing of tomato with cottage cheese.
It stands to reason that dairy-proud Wisconsin would make magic of even the humblest of cheeses. At this 40-year-old farm-to-table pioneer, cottage cheese appears as a light and refined first course or as an amuse-bouche that channels a more casual, classic form. When asparagus is in season, Chef de Cuisine Tory Miller sources spears from Blue Valley Gardens to serve with pureed Murphy’s organic cottage cheese under a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil with toasted pepitas. “The Murphys only make cottage cheese in the spring and summer, when their cows feed on grass,” Miller explains. “So I was drawn to the cottage cheese for its fresh milk flavor. I love this particular dish because it’s almost reminiscent of vegetable-and-chip dip, which I obviously also love.”
This hip Greenwich Village vegetarian restaurant has served its housemade cottage cheese in some form from day one. Showing up at various times on the appetizer menu or as a dip with fluffy tandoor-baked bread, the cottage cheese has appeared in a number of bright, savory preparations. It has been served alongside broccoli-leaf pesto and been paired with asparagus and nectarines, with olives, local cherries and fennel, and in its current rendition, with melon and cardamom sea salt.