Dry curd cottage cheese is a dairy product that contains little more than raw cheese curds. Contrary to the name, these curds are almost always moist. They are called “dry” primarily because they lack the liquid base common to most standard cottage cheeses. Cheese makers drain dry curd cottage cheese to isolate the solids, leaving the whey and any milk run-off as waste. The curds are common in baking, and have a mild flavor that can complement a variety of salad and pasta dishes.
Making dry curd cottage cheese is relatively simple. In most cases, the process starts as does any cheese-making endeavor. Cooks must heat milk to nearly boiling, then add an acid, often in the form of the enzyme rennet, which causes the milk solids to separate from the whey. These solids will float to the top of the milk, where they can easily be skimmed off and drained. Cheese makers can control the density and thickness of these solids by manipulating the proportion of acid to milk, as well as selecting milk of differing fat levels.
When making cottage cheese according to more traditional recipes, the solids recovered from the milk are broken up into still smaller pieces, then cooked on their own over low heat. The heat breaks down many of the curds’ core compounds, which leads to the continued production of a thickened, enriched whey. The manufacturing process for the dry version skips this second cooking, leaving the solids as they are on first formation.
Most of the time, the curds are strained and pressed through a cloth or metal sieve until all excess moisture has been removed. The curds are then set aside, and either packaged for sale or refrigerated for later home use. Dry curd cottage cheese is commonly salted, and herbs and other flavors can be added as well. Different types of cheese curds are usually characterized either by their flavor or their richness.
In some markets, dry curds are also called “baker’s cheese” or “farmer’s cheese.” This is likely owing to the simple and relatively low-tech process required for their production. Many home cooks make dry curd cottage cheese, and most recipes are forgiving of beginners’ mistakes. The alternative names are also sometimes used by commercial manufacturers to conjure images of rustic, old-fashioned cheese making.
Dry curd cottage cheese is something of an anomaly where dairy foods are concerned, as it contains almost no lactose. Lactose is a sugar compound found in nearly all milk products. People who suffer from extreme lactose intolerance must generally avoid dry curd cottage cheese, but people with only mild lactose sensitivities can usually still enjoy it.
The curds tend to be somewhat chewy in texture and, unless seasoned, do not often carry much of a distinctive flavor. This makes them particularly good choices for baking. Dry curds generally have a high heat threshold, and tend to melt very evenly. Cooking with cottage cheese curds is a good way to add pockets of creaminess or unique texture to a variety of dishes, from breads and other baked goods to meat preparations. The curds also slice and crumble well, making them unique garnishes for a wide range of meals.