Pot cheese and cottage cheese are two fresh, unaged cheeses that share some similarities but also have distinct differences.
Both pot cheese and cottage cheese originate from simple cheesemaking techniques that dairy farmers likely used for personal consumption.
They both deliver creamy, spreadable textures thanks to a high moisture content from retained whey. But pot cheese experiences a more extensive drainage process that concentrates the curds, forming a drier, crumblier cheese.
Both pot cheese and cottage cheese start with curdling milk to separate the solids from the liquid whey. But their production diverges at the draining stage.
To make cottage cheese:
- Milk is cultured, usually with mesophilic bacteria that thrive at room temperature. The bacteria's enzymes curdle the milk through acidification.
- Rennet may be added to help the curds set.
- Once curds form, the thickened milk is heated gently to continue separating curds from whey.
- The curds are drained, but not to the point of totally removing the whey, which keeps the texture moist.
- Salt and cream are often mixed in for flavor and richness.
For pot cheese:
- The process begins the same way, with culturing and renneting milk.
- When the curds form, they get drained more extensively, up to 8 hours, to remove much of the whey.
- Salt may be added for flavor and preservation, but pot cheese usually does not contain cream.
- The high drainage results in a drier, denser texture as the curds compress together.
Key Takeaway: Pot cheese undergoes a more extensive draining process to remove additional whey and concentrate the curds compared to cottage cheese.
The biggest textural difference stems from the higher residual whey in cottage cheese.
- Cottage cheese has a loose, creamy texture with distinct curds suspended in the whey. The curds are smaller, ranging from lentil-sized to about 1/4 inch.
- Pot cheese undergoes enough draining for the curds to compact together into a more cohesive mass. The curds are also generally larger, around 1/2 inch.
- With the whey drained away, pot cheese has a drier, crumblier consistency. It can be sliceable at cold temperatures but spreads at room temperature.
- Cottage cheese is wet, moist, and spoonable straight from the fridge. The loose curds deliver a chunkier mouthfeel compared to pot cheese.
Both cheeses offer mild, fresh flavors since they are unripened. But pot cheese tastes more neutral due to its all-milk composition.
- Cottage cheese often contains added cream, giving it a richer, sweeter taste. The higher moisture content also provides a cooler, more refreshing mouthfeel.
- With less whey and no cream, pot cheese comes across as leaner. It has a more subtle flavor that highlights the taste of milk. Some describe it as blander than cottage cheese.
- The prominent curds in cottage cheese contribute a tangy, acidic bite especially when made from cultured skim milk.
- Pot cheese ferments for less time so it lacks sharpness. A slight saltiness comes through instead.
The looser curds make cottage cheese better suited for:
- Dips and dressings
- Topping fresh fruit or salads
- Mixing into egg dishes like omelets
The concentrated texture and neutral flavor of pot cheese works well in:
- Savory pies or pastries
- Stuffed pasta
- Spreads and fillings
Both can be ingredients in:
- Baking to add protein and moisture - Lasagna and casseroles
- Mashed potatoes
- Pancakes and waffles
- Savory breads and muffins
Key Takeaway: The retained whey makes cottage cheese better for mixing and dips, while concentrated pot cheese suits fillings, spreads, and desserts.
Cottage cheese is a supermarket staple, stocked as:
- Small curd or large curd
- Regular, low-fat, or nonfat
- Plain or flavored with fruit, vegetables, or herbs
Finding pot cheese requires a trip to a:
- Local cheesemaker
- Deli counter at select grocers
- Specialty cheese shop
- Amish market or European grocer
When pot cheese can't be sourced, ricotta makes the best substitution in recipes. Similarities include:
- Fresh, unaged cheese
- Mild taste
- Spreadable, spoonable texture
- Protein content
- Moisture level
Both cheeses provide high-quality protein, minerals like calcium and phosphorus, and B vitamins. But cottage cheese has less fat, fewer calories, and more protein per serving compared to pot cheese.
Per 1/4 cup serving:
|1% Milkfat Cottage Cheese
The fat content reflects how pot cheese is made from whole milk while cottage cheese often relies on low fat or skim milk.
Expect to pay more per pound for pot cheese due to production challenges like:
- Short shelf life
- Small batch quantities
- Limited distribution reach
- Lack of commercial manufacturers
Cottage cheese benefits from widespread mass production and economy of scale. National brands sell 16 ounce containers for just a few dollars.
Pot cheese costs $5-10 per pound - when you can even track it down locally. Homemade pot cheese offers an affordable alternative.
Key Takeaway: Hard-to-find pot cheese comes with a higher price tag than mass-market cottage cheese.
Making Pot Cheese at Home
For cooks who can't source pot cheese, making your own allows you to control the ingredients. It takes about 30 minutes of active time but requires overnight draining.
- 1 gallon whole milk
- 1 packet direct set mesophilic starter culture
- 1/4 teaspoon liquid animal rennet or vegetable rennet
- Cheese salt or kosher salt
- Gently heat milk to 85°F and stir in starter culture. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Add rennet and let sit 30 minutes until curds form.
- Cut curds and continue heating to 102°F over 30 minutes. Curds will shrink to lentil size.
- Drain curds through cheesecloth overnight or up to 8 hours.
- Collect drained curds and mix in salt to taste.
- Store pot cheese in an airtight container up to 1 week.
What exactly is pot cheese?
What other names does pot cheese go by?
It may also be called farmer cheese, dry curd cottage cheese, or quark. In New York, pot cheese was traditionally served as a vegetable topping.
How does pot cheese differ from cottage cheese?
Pot cheese experiences extended draining for a drier, denser texture. It also lacks the added cream common in cottage cheese, giving it a more subtle, mildly tangy flavor.
What kind of milk is used for pot cheese?
Traditional versions rely on whole milk. Buttermilk or yogurt may also be used as starter cultures. The higher fat content contributes to pot cheese's richer mouthfeel.
Is pot cheese easy to find in stores?
No, most major grocers don't carry it due to its short shelf life. Specialty cheese shops or local dairies are better sources. Luckily, pot cheese is easy to DIY at home.
How long does homemade pot cheese last?
Store it in an airtight container in the fridge up to 1 week. It freezes poorly and does not gain complexity with age. Pot cheese is best eaten fresh.
What recipes work well with pot cheese?
Its neutral flavor and creamy texture suits sweets like cheesecake or blintzes. It can also substitute for ricotta in savory dishes like lasagna, calzones, or stuffed pastas.
Cottage cheese offers the convenience of mass market availability and a price tag under $4 per pound. Its mild, tangy flavor and moist curds make it ideal for fruit toppings or mixing into dips, dressings, and smoothies.
With similar production but extra draining, pot cheese delivers a more condensed curd texture suited for fillings, desserts, and spreads. It provides a blank canvas that absorbs other flavors readily. But limited distribution and quick spoilage lead to higher costs and irregular availability.