When I was a kid, cottage cheese was one of those things that adults ate. Uncle Steve would occasionally eat cottage cheese mixed with sour cream for dinner and I thought it was the height of strangeness. Why would anyone want to eat that? Years later, after they were divorced, Aunt Marie would bring home containers of cottage cheese and pineapple. After much coaxing, I was finally convinced to try it, and it wasn't so bad. Once I got used to the sensation of all those soft curds beneath my teeth, the combination of tangy cheese and sweet, preserved pineapple became almost delicious. When she brought it home, I would occasionally sneak into the fridge and eat her stash, but it was never something that I would ask for myself.
Years later I still had this love-hate relationship with cottage cheese. I would read rhapsodic essays about it or see evocative recipes for cottage cheese blintzes or cottage cheese pancakes but they rarely lived up to the hype. Cottage cheese remained one of the few cheeses that I just didn't understand. Flash forward to my thirties and I finally began to develop an appreciation for cottage cheese. I tried some "artisan" brands that were creamy and tangy and full of this sweet, yet delicate, flavor that finally convinced me that there was a reason why so many people loved it. You can puree it into a smooth creamy spread, for those who don't love the tiny curds or you can drain it a bit to intensify the experience. You can fold it into pastry doughs and use it as a filling. It goes anywhere that cream cheese or ricotta goes, changing the flavor profile along the way.
I've grown to appreciate the tender curds and the way that chewing them helps release the flavor of the cheese. I still like a hint of sweetness to balance things out and I find that preserves will often do the trick. Today I toasted some country sourdough bread and spread it with apricot preserves and cottage cheese. Alex watched my process and then, as I was grinding some black pepper over the top, he went out to the patio to snip a few leaves of lovage. He tore them into small pieces and scattered them over the top. It was the perfect finishing touch. The bright celery-anisey notes of the herb woke up the flavors of both the apricots and cottage cheese. The crunch of the toast giving way to the tenderness of the curds and the different types of sweet and sour all weaving themselves together in my mouth were a revelation. It's not often that we can take everyday foods and re-imagine them by adding a single ingredient and when it happens, it's good reminder that there's always a way to make things even more delicious.
May 25, 2005