Back in the Mesopotamian times, they made a sour, salty cheese that dates back to the 3rd century BC. The story goes that a desert traveler discovered it accidentally after filling sheep stomach saddlebags with milk, before setting out on a journey. The hot climate and the sloshing of the bags, plus the rennet from the sheep stomach caused the formation of the cheese curds, which would become popular in the region.
This predates recorded history in any case, and there is a good chance the story is made up. But what does make sense is the fact of cheeses forming because the milk was stored in animal stomach. These do commonly contain rennet, which is a mix of enzymes that can curdle the casein in milk.
Rome spread the charm of cheese as it conquered the nations around it. Egyptians too have tomb writings showing cheese making. Over time, the art gained popularity as a way to preserve the nutrition of milk past a couple of days when people weren’t even close to discovering natural refrigeration in many parts of the world.
Cottage cheese is special among these, in that it doesn’t technically require rennet in the making, because it uses naturally occurring Mesophilic lactic acid bacteria instead. The milk is simply set out near a fire or warm place, which is conducive for bacterial action to occur. The process transforms the liquid milk into a curd, which comprised the starting stage of cottage cheese.
Some cooks preferred treating it further by washing in cold water, to get something called pot cheese. Addition of cream to the curd wasn’t uncommon either, and it served to enrich the final product. Straining and pressing would get you farmer’s cheese.
Why It Is Called Cottage Cheese
The “cottage” part in the name probably refers to the fact that this type of cheese was made a lot in country homes where milk was easier to get. This cheese is also very easy to make when compared to other cheeses, and requires much less processing to get it to its intended final form.
It is fairly likely that at the time, “cottage” meant a small country residence, which is where most of the cottage cheese was made back then. These homesteads had all the ingredients as well as conditions for cheese making, readily available.