I have been unable to find an etymology for the term Cottage Cheese in English. Interestingly, the Hebrew Wikipedia lists the etymology as being due to cottage cheese being prepared from the wastes of other milk products, hence its association with the poor and named after houses typical of the poor. The English Wikipedia has a single line alluding to such with no reference, and the Hebrew reference is rather dubious as well.

  • I would propose that the term "cottage cheese" only gained traction when it began to be mass-produced, and manufacturers had to settle on a common term for what previously have been known under a dozen different names. This would have occurred starting in the middle of the 19th century when mechanical refrigeration (including "ice boxes") began to come available.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 23:22

5 Answers 5


It's not to do with cheap/expensive - it's like country wine, which notwithstanding Wikipedia's definition, I take to mean capable of being made on a small scale, without use of industrial production facilities. That's the core sense of cottage industry and cottage hospital, so I imagine it's the same general idea with cheese.

I'm no cook/cheesemaker, but I'd be pretty sure cottage cheese is much easier to make at home with minimal specialist equipment than, say, Cheddar, or Brie.

EDIT: I see others mentioning that Wikipedia says the term was first recorded in 1848. That's complete tosh. Here, for example, is an 1831 reference - which I'm sure is nowhere near "first use".

  • The comment about small scale production does sound logical, and is congruent with the stated etymology yet explains it better. Thanks!
    – dotancohen
    Commented Dec 19, 2011 at 20:54
  • wouldn't most cheese names be in use before the industrial revolution?
    – gcb
    Commented Dec 19, 2011 at 22:36
  • @gcb: Larger-scale facilities existed much earlier - for example, every peasant could presumably prepare griddle-scones, flatbreads, and such in the comfort of their own hovel, but they'd have bought "proper" bread from the baker when they could afford it. Similar principle with ale, sausages, etc. Anyway, I see no evidence in NGrams that cottage cheese was used before early/mid 1800s, so I don't think you've hit on an anachronism there! :) Commented Dec 19, 2011 at 23:03
  • I didn't find anything earlier than that 1831 either. Possibly not the "first use" but it looks good for an early recording: it's in an article about country lodgings, and describes cottage cheese as the name used in a village near Philadelphia, USA: "a small glass dish of that preparation of curds, which in vulgar language is called smear-case, but whose no de guerre is cottage-cheese, at least that was the appellation given it by our hostess." Also this suggests the term originates in the US, and Ngrams agrees (comparing corpora).
    – Hugo
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 10:55
  • I doubt you can read into NGram that it originated in America. Cottage pie and cottage loaf, for example, are foods you can cook without the more sophisticated facilities of the local baker's oven. I'd expect the term to have been coined repeatedly in different times and places. Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 15:26

Cottage industry, cottage hospital, cottage cheese - all suggest something small-scale, local, (domestic?). A cottage being a small dwelling of the rural populace.

From the Wikipedia article:

The term "cottage cheese" is believed to have originated because the simple cheese was usually made in cottages from any milk left over after making butter. The term was first used in 1848

Cottage cheese is not matured like other cheeses. The small-scale production techniques probably mean the infrastructure to safely and successfully do this were not available to the humble domestic cheese producers so their product was sold 'fresh'.


Unsourced speculation this; however:

I think it's wrong to equate "cottage" with real poverty. Only the very wealthy would live in a castle or a mansion. A successful farmer might live in a cottage. (cf Anne Hathaway's Cottage; family dwelling of William Shakespeare's wife).

Making "proper" cheese is an involved procedure, involving months of attended maturation. Even in the Middle Ages, you would buy cheese from a professional cheesemaker rather than make your own.

Cottage cheese, however, is easy to make in the home. Heat some milk, throw in a curdling agent (rennet), squeeze out the liquid whey, and it's ready. Hence it's something someone would make in their cottage, rather than buying in.

  • 1
    As I understand it, the cottage was not always the domain of the wealthy. In fact, from what I understand the small humble cottage was once typical of the underprivileged.
    – dotancohen
    Commented Dec 19, 2011 at 20:55
  • I'm not saying the cottage was the domain of the wealthy. Just that it was never the domain of those too poor to afford "real" cheese.
    – slim
    Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 12:17

Cottage cheese is one of those food words that varies geographically; in fact, it's been used in many dialect surveys as an indicator of dialect boundaries.

For instance, the following terms are (or have been) used for the same product in various American locations: cottage cheese, pot cheese, curds and whey, farmer cheese, and smearcase (the latter is an Anglicization of Pennsylvania German Schmierkees, from German Schmierkäse).

  • Farmer cheese is vehemently not a synonym of cottage cheese: it's a totally different type of cheese. All it has in common with cottage cheese is that it isn't aged at all.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 2:45
  • 1
    And I suppose the fact you think they are different helps define what dialect you speak.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 3:15
  • @Marthaª: You can't get a much more "official" refutation of your comment than this early reference by the US Treasury: A commodity produced by heating milk, drawing off the whey, and pressing the residue into cakes, known as cottage cheese or farmer's cheese, is classifiable as cheese or substitutes therefor, under paragraph 710 of the Tariff. That is in fact the earliest reference I can find where it clearly designates a specific type of cheese rather than just "cheese made by a farmer". Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 14:01
  • @FumbleFingers: usage and meaning change over time, especially with food terms. What I'm saying is that if you go to a US grocery store and buy some cottage cheese and some farmer cheese, you will have two totally different products: the former will be in a round plastic tub, and will consist of curds floating in a slimy white liquid, while the latter will be in a rectangular plastic package, and will be a semi-solid block of very small curds.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 17:06
  • @Marthaª: I only looked it up in the first place because farmers cheese doesn't really mean anything to me, unless it's by way of contrast with "cheese made in (big industrial) factories". All the cottage cheese I've ever seen for sale in the UK over many decades has always been "fully drained" of whey - usually sold in round plastic tubs, which I guess would be the same as yours. Some (not all) mozzarella is sold in bags also containing liquid, but I think that's essentially water. Brits aren't exactly keen on buying whey. Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 18:52

I have no firsthand knowledge of how the term cottage cheese came into use in the 1840's, so will quote from wikipedia:

The term "cottage cheese" is believed to have originated because the simple cheese was usually made in cottages from any milk left over after making butter. The term was first used in 1848.

Wikipedia attributes the information to etymonline, where we find:

First record of cottage cheese is from 1848.

Etymonline also has a link to dictionary.reference.com, which in a linked entry says of cottage cheese,

Origin: 1840–50, Americanism

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