You may have noticed that the front of your favorite cottage cheese container isn’t just generically labeled “cottage cheese”. Besides the brand name, there is usually also the milkfat percentage (1%,2%, 4%, etc.) on the label. You may also notice the cottage cheese total content size listed, such as 1 1/2 lbs (24 oz). Additionally, the container will usually indicate that the cottage cheese is either small curd or large curd. You may have wondered what the heck does small curd and large curd mean, anyway?
Cottage cheese that is small curd vs large curd is determined based on how it is made. In order for milk to coagulate and start to form curds it needs help from an enzyme or an acid. If a cottage cheese is labeled “large-curd” it means that the cottage cheese was specifically made from an enzyme called rennet. Small curd means that the cottage cheese was made from another method without rennet.
What is rennet? It is an enzyme formed inside the stomach of baby mammals like calfs or lambs. This means extracting it from a dead animal. While this is an unpleasant thought, animal rennet is the traditional method that is still used to make some cheeses because it is said to produce the best taste. However, there are alternatives. Vegetable rennet is made from a variety of plants that are able to produce coagulation in milk. I have personally used it for homemade cottage cheese and it works just fine. Additionally, there are fungus and mold (microbial) based rennet and also genetically engineered products.
Rennet promotes coagulation of the milk into curds. Basically, a separation occurs between the curds and the whey (the liquid portion) because of the rennet. The whey is then drained leaving just the curds. Usually cream, milk, or buttermilk is added to the curds to form what we know as cottage cheese. There is also something known as dry curd cottage cheese, which does not have cream, milk, etc. added to the curds.
Many people notice a taste difference between small curd vs large curd cottage cheese. This is because the methods of promoting coagulation differ between rennet vs. non-rennet manufacturing. Rennet will produce a cottage cheese with less acidity giving large curd a more desirable taste for many. Rennet provides lower acidity because it shortens the curdling process while also producing a larger curd size. Hence why it is called large curd.
Image Credit: Fabienne D