Le cottage

cottage cheese

If you live in the United States, you probably are going to want to scratch your head at this one. Because it’s about something very common back there, otherwise known as le cottage here in France. Yes, it’s true. I used to take cottage cheese for granted. You could pick up a large tub of it in any grocery store, because somehow, it’s become a fixture in American dairy aisles along with fresh milk (sold by the gallon jugs with handles, which after living with slender liter bottles of milk for so long, seem absolutely gargantuan), yogurt, sour cream, and other creamy goodies.

I used to eat cottage cheese fairly regularly and fell into the ‘large curd’ camp. As some of you might know, there’s the small-curd and the large-curd people, and I like the bigger soft, pillowy blobs of cheese, which rest in their milky liquid, waiting for my spoon to plow into the container and spoon them out. Then there’s the full-fat, low-fat, and non-fat people, but at this point in my life, it’s all moot due to where I live.

I didn’t think I’d miss it so much, but some time after I arrived in France, I noticed something labeled “cottage cheese” in the yogurt aisle. The yogurt aisle in a French supermarket is immense; vast and varied, and it’s gotten harder in the past few years to find regular plain ol’ yogurt amongst the rows and rows of flavors, textures, and colors, that yogurt now comes in. Nestled in between the riot of packages, I pulled the container off the shelf, took a look at the price, scoffed, put it back on the shelf, then picked out my plain yogurt and left.

Yet as the years passed, I kept seeing that premium-priced pot beckoning to me, and it’s hard to describe, but when you live outside of the United States, you start realizing that you not only have to pay more for everyday items in general, but that you’re willing to spend a lot more to pay for things that you just gotta have, no matter what. Thanksgiving is a good time of the year to test your resolve, especially if you want a whole turkey, and it’s very easy to find yourself shelling out the equivalent of a hundred bucks for a whole bird. (Whole turkeys do exist in France, although that week, prices seem to triple if you have an American accent.)

And although I got wise this year and sent Romain to pick up the bird, I couldn’t expect him to understand why I needed breakfast cereal for an apéro snack. So there I was, scouring the stores that cater to expats in Paris, desperate for a box of Chex – with a self-imposed ceiling price of €10 . Yes, I had a craving to mix up a batch of Chex Party Mix and it sadly wasn’t realized, in spite of my allegiance to my culture.

cottage cheese

A lot of people in France think Americans only eat junk food because that’s what gets imported into Europe (along with being influenced by people like me, who write about mixing breakfast cereal with large amounts of salt, butter, peanuts, and pretzel, and serving it before dinner). Invariably what they see are items with very long shelf lives, such bottled salad dressings, Old El Paso guacamole powder, and something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the US; strawberry-flavored marshmallow Fluff. So it’s no wonder people think we don’t eat well when that’s what’s featured in the rayon américain of le supermarché.

As of yet, there’s no Chino Ranch beets in the produce aisle at the local Monoprix, I haven’t found anyone stocking their bakery baskets with pretzel croissants from City Bakery, and there’s no Strauss organic yogurt mixed in with the salted caramel or pistachio macaron-flavored yogurts.

cheese map of France

Speaking of cheese (or whatever I was speaking of), the French have plenty of great cheeses, but admittedly, they do have an affection for certain anglo foods – even some of the good ones – including le cottage, as they call it. There’s definitely gotta be a market for it since I now see it in most supermarkets. However when I go back to the states and buy a jumbo tub of cottage cheese, I find it insipid and bland. Because I’ve succumbed to the siren song of le cottage, in France. Made by our neighbors in England, one spoonful of this cottage cheese is all I need to shoot me right up to curdled heaven. It’s rich, but not overly so, and tastes like a real product from a cow with real milk overtones and none a drop of watery liquid surrounding the compact, creamy cheese curds.

True, this puny container cost me €1,99 ($2.70) – and it’s always funny to me when people come to visit and say that everything here is so expensive. (And I don’t think many of those tourists are talking about buying whole turkeys.) I always answer, “Yes, we are aware of that.”

cottage cheese

I usually start with the best intentions, rationing myself to eating half of le cottage (which is about five spoonfuls) then putting the rest away for the next day. Yet there I am, a few hours later, digging my spoon in, until I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel, so to speak. But I do try to be prudent and not overdo it in le cottage department, because I need to save up a bit for the next holidays coming up. And it’s going to take a little explaining on my part to hunt down great American delicacies, like cakes packed with sticky-sweet fruit, that we pass on to each other year-after-year, or marshmallow-flavored chickens, available in pink, yellow, and blue.

Related Links


Homemade Cottage Cheese Recipe

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10 Goofy Foods You’ll Find in a French Supermarket

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  • Lori
    December 11, 2011 4:29pm

    David – the next time you are in the states, you must try Trader’s Point cottage cheese. Most Americans would consider it pricey but all of their stuff is because top notch. I treat myself to it a couple of times a year and wouldn’t buy any other brand.

  • December 11, 2011 5:07pm

    Mmmm, cottage cheese. It’s actually good for you…in the lowfat varieties. With fruit like pineapple in the evening before bed, it will stabilize your blood sugar until morning. The problem is that it’s tasty and dessert-like, so I can see how you want to eat the whole container at once.

  • December 11, 2011 7:37pm

    I am one of the odd folks who has always enjoyed cottage cheese. Some eat it only if they’re dieting or trying to be healthy. But I just love it. Sometimes I add salsa. Sometimes black pepper. Sometimes fruit. Anyway,this tale of cottage cheese in Europe was fun to read. Thanks.

  • Michael
    December 11, 2011 9:51pm

    David, Is food more or less expensive in Paris for groceries then in New York? I’d love to see a comparison shop sometime.

  • Dominique
    December 12, 2011 9:28am

    Where did you find Le Cottage? Monoprix, Casino…? I am an ex-pat living near Lyon and I would love to find cottage cheese!

    They carry this at my local Monoprix and Franprix, although availability probably varies by location. -dl

  • December 12, 2011 5:18pm

    David on December 9, 2011 11:52 AM
    ‘Yes, you can make your own cottage cheese. I linked to my recipe at the end of the post.’

    My apologies – I missed the link at the end of your post. However there are easier methods around and without using rennet, which is not suitable for vegetarians (unless there is a vegetarian alternative I don’t know about: a bit like beef suet and vegetarian suet!)
    The method I learned was just milk (full fat, half fat or skimmed) salt and lemon juice. So simple. One day I will come across the recipe again – I hope!

    I love the way the French have not tried to translate the word Cottage – somehow La Chaumiere would not be quite the same!

    ‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’

  • December 12, 2011 7:46pm

    This post definitely inspired me to buy cottage cheese at the grocery store this weekend for the first time in years! mmm good.

  • Ohiogirl
    December 13, 2011 8:51am

    David –

    Ah ha! You sly dog – listing the recipe under “related links.” Sorry I missed it, I will check it out.

    And just remembered one more fab way to have cottage cheese – cook some chopped green cabbage in butter, toss it with cooked egg noodles and some cottage cheese, then top with fresh ground pepper. Simple but yummy!

  • Cat
    December 13, 2011 3:56pm

    Friend of mine used to make the most wonderful cheesecake with cottage cheese. Not necessarily better than the heavenly creaminess that is full fat cream cheese, but a really good light summer alternative.

  • Melanie Peterson
    December 13, 2011 4:00pm

    I am going to digress, chex mix, is something, thanks to three teen’s, and one being at boarding school, who requires copious amounts sent to her and her friends, that I make every single week of my life. I substitute popped corn for some of the pretzels, and I make it a bit holiday like, and add dried cranberries..

    I tried going asian with it, and using half soy sauce for some of the Worcestershire sauce,and playing with the garlic onion powder with asian spices, and using Trader Joe’s thai cashew nuts, but that wasn’t as popular, but I liked it..

  • Bart Vis
    December 15, 2011 9:42pm

    Hi David, I bought cottage cheese with pineapple when I was a young man in Texas. It spoiled quicker than regular CC, but that was never a problem for me because I would eat it quickly.

  • AmyG
    December 16, 2011 2:10pm

    I’m delighted to see that this is Longley Farm cottage cheese. I live near the farm in Sheffield (Enlgand) and had no idea their products travelled so far. They do beautiful fromage frais, butter and yoghurt, but the cottage cheese is their best product. It only costs us 80 pence here though!

    The low prioritisation of fresh milk in France has always baffled me-for a country that is so hot on all the other dairy products, it seems like a really odd gap. Are they just making it all in to cheese and butter?!

    On the subject of pricing, there’s a really good section in Michael Pollan’s ‘In Defence of Food’ where he discusses the relationship between average spend on food, nutritional intake and eating cultures by contrasting American and French habits. According to his argument, the French do spend more on food, and are healthier-one of his suggestions for this is that it reflects a deeper respect for quality. I know this is not really what you meant as you are talking about expensive imports, but I just wanted to mention the book as a really interesting read on the subject!

  • AmyG
    December 16, 2011 2:20pm

    Ah, I see some people in the UK report Longley Farm is expensive here..you’re being fleeced guys! I work a bit in a little wholefood shop and with a retail price at 135% of the cost price (our very standard mark-up) it’s 80p!

  • December 16, 2011 2:26pm
    David Lebovitz

    AmyG: People do find it curious the “low prioritisation” of fresh milk (great term!) in France. I think it’s because the French are not milk-drinkers – no one I know ever drinks a glass of milk, and milk is generally used in morning coffee, and that’s about it. Sterilized milk is popular likely because grocery stores don’t have the space – or want to pay the electricity for – refrigerated cases. I don’t buy it, but am surprised that most fromageries only sell sterilized milk or liquid cream, when their shelves are lined with superb raw milk cheese.

    Michael Pollan’s book is great, although I think many countries (including France) have not traditionally had access to cheap foods (ie: processed) although that’s changing a bit.

  • December 18, 2011 11:09pm

    The reason why you are so addicted to this curdy goodness is because of it’s made of milk from Jersey cows. Have you ever seen a Jersey cow? They are the prettiest cows ever, with loooong lashes and giant Bambi eyes. Their milk is considered the champagne of milks – so I can understand why you kept going back. Anything by those beauties is like crack.

  • December 22, 2011 3:59pm

    We also have trouble getting cottage cheese in Israel. It comes in tiny containers – 250 mL and costs anywhere between $1.30 and $2.50 depending on the store. In fact the rise in the cottage cheese prices to $2.50 sparked a summer of social protests here affectionately named, “The Cottage Cheese Protest”. Although I have to say that the quality of the cheeses in general here is much better.

  • December 22, 2011 4:02pm
    David Lebovitz

    Ellie: I feel the same way. Once I tasted very good cottage cheese (both in the states, from Cowgirl Creamery, and this one here) I think it’s worth the extra money because it’s so much better. Am happy I gave it a try!

  • Anna
    December 25, 2011 1:15am

    Wow, I must say you put this into perspective for me. I can get amazing cottage cheese at the local discounter Lidl in Berlin for 47 cents. But I didn’t realize how good it was until I came to the states and tried some cottage cheese here. Bwah! Gelatin, pectin, guar gum, xanthan gum, cornstarch, rice starch, I have no idea what or why it is in there… It CAN be done, and brilliantly, without all this stuff, so – why?

  • December 27, 2011 7:21pm

    Cheese and France does cause the odd issue for me certainly. I am an English chef who moved to the South West of France 3 years ago to live and work. Simple recipes in my portfolio of easy to whip up crowd pleasers have instead turned into missions of cheese terminology searching, in various french english dictionaries etc. I only realised 2 hours before I was due to present 6 vanilla cheesecakes for 150 people that cream cheese just doesn’t exist here. The closest contender being creme tartiner which has a lower fat content. The result was tasty, but slightly more bendy than usual cheesecakes which had to be removed from the fridge seconds before service! I don’t think anyone noticed. But who knew that something as simple as cheese could take a chef close to a nervous breakdown!