how to make cottage cheese

A few weeks ago, I developed a wild craving for cottage cheese. I know it’s an odd object of desire, but cravings are cravings and I do my best not to argue with them. I wanted cottage cheese with honey, cottage cheese with that jar of canned peaches from the summer! And so, easy peasy, I went to the store, and I got my cottage cheese.

      Barely unable to contain myself, I popped open the container and fixed myself a big bowl of the stuff with honey and canned peaches. A little snow shower of cinnamon, and then I took a bite. Sometimes cravings taste so much better when you’re just thinking about them. Somehow, in my dreaming, I’d left out that odd sour pucker that some cottage cheese can have. Perhaps it was that I bought the organic cultured stuff? It didn’t live up.

      That’s what brings us here. Because it has certainly been far too long since we’ve talked about cheese. (Isn’t any time too long? Let’s talk about cheese every day!) I ended up working so much on home cheese making for the book, that I kept it quiet over here. But now the book is done, and we can cut curd all day long. And that’s an excellent way to pass a day, if I may say so, myself. It turns out the homemade cottage cheese is smooth and lovely, and very much worth the time. If you’ve never made cheese, this is a fine cheese to start with, and (it goes without saying) YOU WILL HAVE MADE YOUR OWN CHEESE. It’s magic, people, magic. The thrill of this stuff never fades for me.

      So let’s get to it, shall we? Before we start, a few quick notes on the fundamentals of fresh cheese.

1. Milk: Good milk makes good cheese. Pasteurized or raw will work, although there are some slight variations in how each perform. If possible, go for local milk that is NOT ultra-pasteurized. We need a certain amount of good bacteria in the milk to make cheese, and ultra-pasteurization heats the milk to such high temperatures that it makes it more difficult for milk to work for you.

2. Process: Most fresh cheeses follow a similar process. Usually, the solids must be separated from the liquid. This gives us curds and whey, and we use the curds to make the cheese. Then, heat, cool, stretch, or stir the curd (depending on the cheese) to get the consistency that we want. In the case of some fresh cheeses, we also let the curd drain so that it can get thicker and drier (like in the case of cream cheese).

3. Materials: If you’re interested in making cheese at home, you need to have a few ingredients at hand that you wouldn’t normally have. I know that sometimes it’s easy to turn off or get discouraged by the need to order unfamiliar ingredients, but I promise- do it once, and you won’t regret it. It’s amazing how quickly one can travel from being someone who doesn’t make cheese at home to someone who does. I get all of my cultures and ingredients here– they ship quickly and are a great company. If you are going to buy a few things, start with direct-set mesophilic starter, liquid rennet (animal or vegetable), and citric acid (not used in this recipe, but helpful in others). Starters should be kept in the freezer, and then they will be ready for you when you need them. Rennet is good in the fridge for up to a year.

It will take a day to make cottage cheese, although most of that time, the cheese is just making itself. In order to make 3 cups of cheese, you will need:

3 quarts milk (any fat level will work here)
1 package direct-set mesophilic starter
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet
1/4 cup heavy cream

You will also need some a thermometer that goes as low as 70 degrees F. Some insta-read thermometers will do this, or you can buy a cheese making thermometer as well.


First, Pour the milk into a large bowl or pot. Put it into a water bath to warm it to about 70 degrees F.

Now, pull out your mesophilic starter.

Sprinkle one package over the surface of the milk. Leave it there to hydrate for about two minutes. Then, gently stir it into the milk.

Now, pull out your rennet.

Stir 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet into 1/4 cup of cool, filtered or bottled water. It needs to be filtered because highly chlorinated water will counter the effect of the rennet. Stir with a nice up-and-down motion for 2 minutes. Take the pot out of the water bath, and, if your room is cooler than 70 degrees, wrap the pot in a towel to keep it warm. If your room is really cold, you can also put the pot into a cooler, and that will insulate it against the cold.

Let the pot sit undisturbed for four to six hours. When the milk has turned into a thick curd, it’s time for the next step. The curd will look like yogurt or silken tofu, and when you stick your finger into it, your finger should come out relatively clean.

If it hasn’t reached this point, wait another hour and check it again.

Now, it’s time to cut the curd. The goal is to cut the entire mass of curd into 1/2-inch cubes. Using a bread knife, start by cutting straight lines 1/2 inch apart all the way across the curd. Make sure that you cut all the way down to the bottom of the pot.

Then, rotate the pot and cut another set of straight lines at a 90 degree angle to the first set. This will create a grid.

Now, you have one more set of cuts to make. In order to get small pieces of curd, make another set of cuts going into the curd at a diagonal angle, like this:

Then do the same from the opposite side of the pot. The third set of cuts always feels a bit awkward and messier than the first two, so don’t sweat it.

Once you have cut the curd, give it a gentle but thorough stir.Set the pot or bowl onto another pot so that you have a double boiler set-up. The upper pot should fit snugly onto the lower so that no steam escapes. Put a few inches of water into the lower pot and bring it to a high simmer. Put the pot with the curd over the lower pot, making sure that the bottom of the curd pot is not touching the water.

Attach a thermometer to the side of your pot so that the end of it goes into the center of the curd. Lower the heat to medium-low, and cook the curd slowly, stirring constantly. The temperature should be going up no more than a degree or two a minute. The curd will start to shrink and change as it cooks. It will also continue to separate from the whey.

Keep stirring and cooking until the curd reaches about 110 degrees. This should take about 30 minutes. The curd will be small and springy.

Pour the curds through a colander, making sure to catch the whey for use later. (Use it instead of milk in smoothies, instead of stock in soup, or instead of milk or water in your bread recipes.) Rinse the curds under very cold water.

Let the curds drain entirely. Then mix with salt to taste (it needs more than you think), and stir in the heavy cream. Now it’s ready to eat. Get out your canned peaches! Get out your honey! Or put it in the fridge- it will be good for up to a week.

Do you want to learn how to make more fresh cheeses? Take a peek at my ricotta and mozzarella posts (although I have to admit, there are newer and improved recipes for both of these in my book), or if you’re over here in my neck of the woods, I’m teaching a cheese class in a few weeks! Feb. 4 from 10 to 2, and I’ve got a few spots left. Just let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you more information.




  1. Katy Davis says

    Hmm, I might have to try your recipe! I tried cottage cheese once, but cooked it too long and ended up with squeaky cheese curds. :) Tasty, but not exactly what I was hoping for.

    I make several different soft cheeses with our fresh goat’s milk, and generally use buttermilk as a culture instead of mesophilic starter. It works just fine and is readily available and cheaper than the starter packets.

  2. Michael Schneider says

    > “It’s magic, people, magic. The thrill of this stuff never fades for me.”

    That’s the way I feel about homemade mayonnaise.

  3. Jeff says

    I live in Northeastern Wisconsin, where cheese is a way of life (they call us Cheeseheads for a reason!), but I have never considered making my own- until now! This looks easier than I thought it would be, and I am going to have to give it a shot!

  4. says

    Hi! My 20-month-old loves cottage cheese, but the organic cottage cheese I buy from the store has a few additives that I would like to avoid (guar gum, etc.). My next step is to make the cheese at home, and I am really attracted to your recipe of all the ones I’ve seen on the web. Yours, though, is much more involved. Yours takes a day, while the others take about an hour. Do you know what the main differences would be in making your version vs the other “fake” versions (e.g. Flavor? Consistency? Also, store-bought cottage cheese often has live active cultures like L. Acidophilus, which I would love to have in my homemade cottage cheese… do you know how I could make that happen?


    • alana says

      Hi Amanda,
      I’ve never tried the recipe you linked to, but I’m intrigued! The main difference, as far as I can see, is that my cottage cheese is cultured (like yogurt or cheese), whereas the recipe you posted is not. I make ricotta the quick way, which is similar to the quick cottage cheese, and although it’s creamy and delicious, it doesn’t have any tang to it. My sense is that the quick cottage cheese isn’t going to have much tang or flavor to it. But if you try it, will you let me know? As for getting good cultures in there, you’ll definitely want to go in the direction of cultured cheese. I use mesophilic culture, but this might work with a simple yogurt starter–I just haven’t tried it.

  5. Jenny Graves says

    I am wondering what the measurement for the culture is. I have a larger amount that I need to measure out of.



  6. Jenny Graves says

    Do you think I can double or triple this recipe and get the same result? I have a large family and one batch would probably not feed all of us. ☺

  7. Sharon says

    First, thanks for posting this great cottage cheese tutorial. The question I have is, where are the images? The links seem to be broken. It would be great if you could fix them.
    Thanks again.

  8. Jennifer Luther says

    Mine turned out very tasty but the curds are really small? Like almost ricotta texture. Added almost 1/2 a cup heavy cream and it seems to be absorbing it! I used ultra pasteurized milk because that’s what I had. Could that have caused the small curds? Thanks Alana!


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