Rosenberg’s lab spent two and a half years looking at what happens when the fat is removed from cottage-cheese dressing. The results weren’t pretty. “The minute a little bit of cream was taken out of the product, it significantly affected its quality attributes, especially the texture,” he says.
That’s because full-fat cottage cheese allows the cream to cling to the outer surface of each curd particle, which prevents the curd from absorbing the moisture from the dressing. When you eat full-fat cottage cheese, you can feel the curd particles on your tongue and you can taste the cream.
Not so with low-fat and non-fat cottage cheese. The product becomes “pastelike,” according to Rosenberg. Most of the moisture from the dressing gets absorbed by the curd, leaving it very mushy and soft. “This deterioration in the traditional quality of the product turned many people off,” says Rosenberg.
Greek yogurt filled the void left by cottage cheese. Over the last few years, people have been seeking low-fat, high-protein foods, and Greek yogurt offers a tasty, nutritious option for some. But Rosenberg has bad news for them.
A 100-gram serving of full-fat cottage cheese contains 11.5 grams of protein and 4.3 grams of fat. An equivalent amount of full-fat Greek yogurt offers about 25 percent less protein (8.7 grams), but provides almost as much fat (4.1 grams) as the cottage cheese. Low-fat cottage cheese still has a lot of protein (10.5 grams) but only about a gram of fat, whereas low-fat Greek yogurt contains more fat—1.7 grams—for only 8.2 grams of protein.
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Rosenberg shakes his head at Greek yogurt’s figure-defying rise. “Nobody talks about it,” he says, almost as if a conspiracy is afoot, before acknowledging that it’s just marketing. “When there is a campaign to promote a product by building an image around it, miracles can happen, and what we see with the Greek yogurt is a miracle.” Greek yogurt seems sophisticated and cosmopolitan, while cottage cheese remains associated with the tedium of weight loss, not to mention the blandness dieting can imply.
Cottage cheese built that reputation over a long time, and breaking it will be hard. Potter recalls that when he began his career as a dairy producer 30 years ago, cottage cheese was marketed mostly to women, men on diets, and bodybuilders.
The connection between dieting and cottage cheese seems to have endured, even with Millennials. When Rosenberg’s lab needed some cottage cheese for analysis, he asked two students to pick some up at the local supermarket. Both of them refused. To Rosenberg’s dismay, the students didn’t want to risk being seen buying cottage cheese.
Cottage-cheese makers have started offering single-serving packaging akin to yogurt, making the product easier to eat as a snack or on the go. That could help distance cottage cheese from its old-fashioned serving methods, spooned from a large tub and topped with canned peaches, for example. In so doing, the milky curds might shed some of its associations with dieting, too. Rosenberg says he’s puzzled by the lack of marketing for cottage cheese, given its near identical composition to yogurt. He worries that the cottage-cheese industry might have given up, especially given that the big producers can just make yogurt instead.