Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cottage Cheese Memories

What a delight to harken back to some iridescent childhood memories.  What triggered these memories dating back over 50 years in some instances?   It was during a recent visit to my sister’s place near Columbus, Ohio that I had an unexpected opportunity to sample one of the favorite comfort foods of my early youth.  

Michigan Brand Cottage Cheese was developed in 1921 by Henry Wolters, a German immigrant who first worked for a creamery in Detroit.  He later moved to Otsego, near Kalamazoo, Michigan, because of the abundance of dairy farms in the area, where he produced what he called "old fashioned" or "farmers" cottage cheese with not less than 4% milk fat.  It is extremely with very small curds - much like ricotta cheese - which gives it a longer shelf life than other, more creamy cottage cheeses.  This is unlike any cottage cheese I have ever found anywhere other than during my visits to my grandparents’ farmstead near Kalamazoo, in southwestern Michigan, and it was always recognizable by its dark blue and white container with the red State of Michigan trademark.

 For the most part, this brand of cottage cheese is only found in Michigan and northern Indiana markets, yet my sister had recently found it in her local supermarket outside Columbus.  So when I visited her this past week we savored this wonderful treat together and I was able to reflect back on my many childhood memories at my grandparents’ farm when I ate it almost daily.  It is the first cottage cheese I recall eating, and one by which I rate all others.  I have yet to find one that measures up; none have been even close!  

A plate of Michigan Cottage Cheese was always on the table at each and every meal on the farm, even breakfast when it could be spread on toast much like one would serve cream cheese and bagels.  I liked it plain; still do . . . just a couple generous scoops on a plate and seasoned with a little salt and pepper - nothing more, nothing less.  Nothing tasted better than a bowl of cottage cheese for lunch while sitting on the side stoop in the shade of a gigantic oak tree and watching the cows in the pasture and the chickens pecking around the nearby coop.  Dinner was the big meal each day and it seemed there was always a visitor or two around the table.  And there was that big bowl of cottage cheese which went with anything that was being served that day.  I recall on a Christmas visit to the farm when I was laid up with the flu and croup and exiled to an upstairs bedroom.  My grandmother would bring me a big bowl of cottage cheese which I would eat while sitting up in bed and staring out at the snowbound fields and pastures of southern Michigan.  It worked better than any medicine the doctor could prescribe, or so I seem to recall.

Now I have returned home to Maryland and to the creamy cottage cheese I have learned to eat in lieu of the dry small curd variety I came to love and expect as a kid.  To be honest, I seriously considered bring a couple cartons of Michigan Cottage Cheese home with me; I hoped to extend this effusion of nostalgia a few more days.  Alas, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have mandated that cottage cheese (dry or otherwise) is a proscribed material which cannot be transported in carry-on luggage.  And though I seriously considered it, there was no room in my luggage.  Life is full of disappointments, and I will learn to live with this one.  But I can still taste it.

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