When Little Miss Muffet sat eating her curds and whey, it's a safe bet that she didn't have the choice between California and Vermont styles.
It seems that people who love cottage cheese are very interested in the texture as well as the taste. Some brands are creamy, others dry, a few downright lumpy. Companies have code words for the size of their curds and the texture of their product. California-style (Friendship, a New York dairy, uses this expression) refers to a drier cottage cheese, Vermont-style (as in Cabot Creamery) refers to a creamy mixture with defined curds. Most companies indicate curd size on the container, but you have to know each company's lingo.
Cottage cheese is made from whole and skim milk that has varying degrees of fat. During a heating and resting process, curds form and mass together. Whey is the liquid that remains and is often drained. Cream, salt, and sometimes modified cornstarch are added.
Nine tasters tried five brands of 4 percent minimum fat cottage cheese (not low-fat). We chased it with cantaloupe chunks and celery sticks.
Creamier cottage cheeses fared well among the tasters, with the big winner Hood Country Style Small Curd Cottage Cheese. Tie for least favorite went to two brands, Cabot and Friendship. Two tasters asked to check the sell date for Cabot because they were certain the cheese was beyond the date (there were three weeks to go). It tasted rancid, they said, but another thought the same cottage cheese "divine." Friendship was the driest. "See, this is what gives cottage cheese a bad name," someone said. Surprisingly, the organic brand, Horizon, has the longest list of ingredients, and at $3.79 for a 1-pound carton, is the most expensive.
Although participants are urged not to make any comments during the tasting (they write down their impressions), I heard an occasional "mmm" from somewhere around the table. One of the tasters later confessed that she was in heaven eating a particular cottage cheese she only buys in the low-fat variety. She said that in comparison, the taste was almost like ice cream. She was later seen loitering around the leftovers.
(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staf)
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