Cottage cheese is not very well respected among gourmands and rarely finds itself in fancy restaurants. I never met anyone gushing over its curdy texture and insipid flavor, calling in glee “Ooh goody an entire carton of just for me!” Babies and toddlers seem to be the only ones who love it so much they mash it all over themselves.
It may be recommended by nutritionists as an inexpensive and low fat way to add calcium to the diet, but even these qualities are not enough to cause a cottage cheese craze (except perhaps with dieters and body builders). Which is why the best way of eating the soft white mounds is to camouflage it within something better, like pancakes for instance.
When I was a student living in the dorms I had a friend who made incredible things with cottage cheese. Her parents immigrated from The Republic of Moldova, a landlocked country between Romania and the Ukraine, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Many of the recipes she taught me are popular Russian comfort foods.
She was practical, frugal and didn’t have the fixation about eating only “healthy” fresh foods the way Americans have been taught. Most of all, she considered fermentation a natural process and would not wrinkle her nose in disgust if she found something creepy and blue in the back of the refrigerator. She would try to think of ways to use it.
It’s good she never told me her secret to her wonderful pancakes- often cottage cheese or sour cream that were on the verge of going bad. What I would have thrown away she simply tasted on the tip of her tongue to see if it could be salvaged. Her cooking ethics, taught to her by a generation who knew scarcity and famine, should be a part of how everyone manages a kitchen.
Today, cottage cheese can be made with or without rennet, the enzyme that catalyzes the curding process. These curds can be pressed to form farm cheese as they do in Western Romania, part of historical Moldova and known by the same name. Farmers often make these farm cheeses to sell at the local market.
Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Known in Russian as Syrniki and often made with either cottage cheese or quark.
1 1/2 cup cottage cheese, (about 250 grams or 9 ounces)
4-6 tablespoons of flour, depending on consistency of the cottage cheese
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt or sugar to taste
Oil or butter for frying
Mix the cottage cheese and eggs together. Add the baking powder, salt or sugar and enough flour to form a thick, gloppy batter the consistency of oatmeal. It should not be runny. Preferably in a cast iron pan add a bit of oil or butter and fry first on one side, waiting a few minutes until it solidifies and then on the other. Serve with fruits and drizzled with maple syrup or honey.
After doing a mini twitter survey on cottage cheese I found out, surprisingly, that there are those who love cottage cheese (two words I rarely see together), while a good number think the best way to describe it is “bbbllleeeuuurrrggghhh”