Thursday, July 18, 2024
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TikTok’s no effort ice cream is almost worth it

Emily Heil

THE WASHINGTON POST – TikTok has made humble sticks of butter into stars and convinced us that canned sardines are sexy. Can it provide the same kind of reputation-shifting service to another oft-maligned grocery item, the pitiable tub of cottage cheese?
Often associated with sad mid-century diets and derided by many for their slippery, bouncy texture, the milky curds have recently been getting a glow-up on the social media platform.

People are blending and whipping them, adding them to eggs, smearing them on toast – and, most virally, making them into a rainbow of ice cream flavours.

Is the cottage cheese-aissance upon us?

“I still can’t get over this healthy ice cream hack that has almost 60 grammes of protein,” TikToker @lainiecooks said in a video that has been watched 1.2 million times. Her version uses strawberries and crushed graham crackers for a cheesecake-y vibe.

Others mix in peanut or almond butters, crushed cookies, chocolate chips, vanilla extract, nuts or bananas. There’s usually a sweetener – syrups, jams and honey are all options – but there are few rules beyond that. In the past few weeks, the trend has evolved with a few additional hacks: People are preparing and freezing them in the plastic container they are sold in using a stick immersion blender, reducing the number of dishes.

“Cottage cheese is the new cauliflower,” one user commented on the @lainiecooks video.

The stage had been set for the cottage cheese ice cream boom, with influencers rediscovering the long-uncool dairy product. Last year, Danielle Zaslavsky, the “caviar queen” of TikTok who kick-started the trend of serving the high-end delicacy on Doritos, posted a video of herself making a snack of cottage cheese topped with diced cucumbers and tomatoes. (She declared it “bomb.”) Melissa Ben-Ishay, who created a green goddess salad that went crazy-viral, dabbles in cottage-cheese-topped toast.

Cottage cheese getting its time in the limelight. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Senior vice president of communications at the trade association Dairy Management Serena Schaffner called cottage cheese “an underdog” that was finally getting its moment. She said the product had been trending upward in the last few years before really taking off.

“We’ve seen it climb steadily but then there are these big spikes in the last few months thanks to TikTok,” she said.

Schaffner credits their rise to Gen Z’s nostalgia for something they might have seen their mums or grandmums eat and a general interest in nutrition. But it’s the “hack culture” of TikTok – influencers looking for something surprising and visually interesting – that helped drive the recent surge. “Cottage cheese is that blank canvas,” she said. “You can pair it with sweet and savoury – it’s kind of the perfect treat that feels indulgent.”

The ice cream videos share the spiritual DNA of another cheesy TikTok trend that involves wheels of brie getting whipped up into an airy spread. And they seem to be getting a boost by wellness influencers swooning over the cottage cheese’s protein content.

I was influenced – to at least give it a try. Perhaps this was the dish that would finally help me shed my aversion to the stuff. Maybe this was where cottage cheese did become the new cauliflower – a long undervalued product elevated by newfound versatility. Or at least it might become the latest TikTok recipe sensation to go mainstream, the heir to tomato-feta pasta.

I picked up two tubs of cottage cheese – one full-fat, the other low-fat (I figured the full fat would offer a better, less icy texture when frozen) and ingredients for two flavours: a strawberry cheesecake and a cookies and cream. Most recipes online don’t offer specific measurements – which makes sense, given that this is a wildly customisable experience.

I started each off by removing a few spoonfuls from the plastic container to give my blender a little room to operate, then processing the lumpy contents into a smooth texture.

Into one, I added a bit of strawberry jam (not too much, since I like my desserts on the low end of the sweetness scale) and then stirred in crushed graham crackers and diced strawberries. The other got a splash of maple syrup, vanilla extract and a handful of bashed-up Oreos. I put the lids back on and popped them into the freezer.

Other than the blender and a few spoons, it was a dish-less, low-mess operation that struck me as something that might be a fun activity for kids.

I let them freeze for nearly four hours, then scooped up the contents. The texture was like a slightly softened ice cream, a convincing dupe for the real thing. But the mouthfeel was just a little off – the ice cream didn’t offer that satisfyingly creamy melting sensation that makes the classic version the stuff that we all scream for. And there was no covering up that salty tang of cottage cheese – perhaps if I had used a touch more sweetener, it might have better balanced it out.

The cookies and cream version was better than the strawberry, perhaps because I added the vanilla, or maybe it was because the Oreo crumbs throughout were a distraction from the consistency of the ice cream itself. I didn’t notice an appreciable difference between the textures of the full and low-fat bases.

I definitely hadn’t discovered a dish that would make me swear off commercial ice cream, but the ease of it was certainly appealing. And the blended, unsweetened mixture I got before adding any of the other ingredients seemed to have plenty of potential for savoury applications. (Dips! Spreads for toast!)

And as I dug into the bowl into which I had spooned a bit of the curds to make room for the blender, I realised that the negative opinion about them that I had formed in childhood wasn’t merited. To my grown-up palate, it wasn’t the slimy, bland cafeteria side that had repelled me, but rather a ricotta- and yogurt-adjacent spread. And if the ice cream I’d made with them wasn’t my favourite, it perhaps was the gateway to giving cottage cheese a second chance.