The information for this article was compiled by Jolene Mafnas & Jennifer Urban.

Americans may be knee-deep in pizza, mac ‘n cheese, and cheeseburgers, but there’s more to the dairy case than mozzarella and cheddar.

Here’s a guide to the best-tasting soft cheeses that have shed some of their unhealthy (saturated) fat and sodium. Check the photos for our dairy (and plant-based) favorites.

Click here for the full chart of our Best Bites and other cheeses.

Cottage cheese

Goodbye, diet-plate staple. Cottage cheese is getting a makeover. Today, it’s often flavored and packaged like single-serve yogurts adorned with “probiotic” or “grass fed” claims.

Expect 10 to 15 grams of protein plus 10 to 15 percent of a day’s calcium for just 100-or-so calories in ½ cup of any plain low-fat (1% or 2%) cottage cheese. That’s impressive.

Too bad the new crop of yogurt look-alikes by Good Culture, Muuna, and others tosses in sugar-sweetened fruit toppings. Cottage cheese—which lacks the tang of yogurt and has plenty of salt—doesn’t need added sugars.

Instead, start with plain and add your own fresh pear, melon, berries, or citrus. Or go savory: think chopped cucumbers or roasted vegetables (peppers, zucchini, eggplant, etc.).

Our plain faves: Good Culture Low-Fat 2% Classic and Daisy Low Fat 2%. Both have a creamy texture without added gums or thickeners. And Good Culture—with just 280 milligrams of sodium per half cup—is less salty than most.

good culture cottage cheese

Look for:No added sugars and no more than 1½ grams of sat fat and 350 mg of sodium in ½ cup.


You’re unlikely to find “fat free,” “low fat,” or “light” ricotta these days. Your best bet is part-skim, which has 2½ to 3 grams of saturated fat per ¼-cup serving.

And don’t forget ricotta’s cousin, farmer cheese. Often made from lower-fat milk (with or without added salt), it has no more sat fat than part-skim ricotta. Spoon farmer cheese over tacos, tostadas, or an arugula-and-fruit salad, suggests our Healthy Cook, Kate Sherwood. Or stuff some inside a spinach or mushroom lasagna or in blintzes or crepes.

365 part-skim ricotta cheese

Ditching dairy? Try Kite Hill Ricotta Alternative, which is made from cultured almond milk. Nut ricotta is lower in saturated fat—and higher in healthy almond fat—than part-skim ricotta. But Kite Hill lacks the calcium and packs double the sodium of most dairy ricottas.

Look for:No more than 3 grams of sat fat and 100 mg of sodium in ¼ cup.

Cream cheese

Don’t be fooled: Cream cheese is more cream than cheese. Two (level) tablespoons typically supply just 1 or 2 grams of protein and less than 5 percent of a day’s calcium, but 4½ to 6 grams of saturated fat and around 100 calories.

Many “whipped” (fluffy) or “light” cream cheeses shave off about half the sat fat. (Beware of fruit varieties, which typically add more sugar than strawberries, blueberries, etc.)

Philadelphia whipped cream cheese

Or consider labne. While most brands were slightly over our sat-fat limit, the thick, delightfully tangy yogurt cheese is worth a try. And think beyond the bagel or toast. Use leftover labne as a base for herby salad dressings, a spread for falafel- or veggie-stuffed pitas, or a topper for other Mediterranean dishes.

karoun labne kefir cheese

As for the dairy-frees, Kite Hill Cream Cheese Style Spreads (made from almonds) have nearly twice the sodium of our Best Bites. But they trounce the coconut-oil-and-starch versions like Daiya Cream Cheeze Style Spread and Violife Just Like Cream Cheese.

kite hill cream cheese

Look for:No added sugars and no more than 3 grams of sat fat and 100 mg of sodium in 2 Tbs.

Sour cream

Just about any “light,” “low fat,” or “reduced-fat” sour cream is a Best Bite, but Daisy Light was our top taste pick.

daisy light sour cream

New squeezable Chobani Savor repurposes plain low-fat or whole-milk Greek yogurt as a sour cream sub. Brilliant! Still, for our stand-in we preferred the taste of Fage 2% Greek Yogurt.

Fage yogurt

Tip: Stir yogurt or low-fat sour cream into sauces after taking them off the heat so they’re less likely to separate.

Look for:No added sugars and no more than 2 grams of sat fat and 30 mg of sodium in 2 Tbs.

Crème fraîche, mascarpone, & quark

Mascarpone (the cheese in tiramisu) and crème fraîche are essentially cultured cream. So it’s no surprise that just two tablespoons of either has 7 to 10 grams of saturated fat (a third to half a day’s worth) and tops 100 calories.

Instead, spoon quark over your fresh fruit or other desserts, for just 35 calories in two tablespoons. The mild soft cheese is pleasantly thick and tart. It can also stand in for sour cream.


Look for:No more than 2 grams of sat fat in 2 Tbs.

Spreadable cheese & brie

Some lower-fat spreadables—like The Laughing Cow and Alouette Reduced Fat—didn’t wow us. But who needs ‘em, when Chavrie Purely Goat Original tastes divine? Bonus: Its mild flavor is a good way to ease newbies into goat cheese.

Chavrie goat cheese

Searching for a plant-based spreadable that actually tastes like cheese? It’s hard to believe that Treeline Creamy Soft French-Style is made from nuts, not dairy. And spreading cultured cashews on your crostini or crackers means dodging most of dairy’s sat fat. Win-win.

treeline tree nut cheese

Memo to brie fans: Président Light and Trader Joe’s Light cut the sat fat to 2½ grams per ounce. If only full-fat will do, look for mini brie bites from Ile de France or Trader Joe’s, with 4 grams of sat fat apiece. That’s less than cheddar.

Look for:No more than 3 grams of sat fat and 180 mg of sodium in 2 Tbs. (spreadables) or in 1 oz. (brie).


Feta’s Achilles’ heel? Salt. Many feta cheeses hit 350 to 450 milligrams of sodium per ounce. That makes Président Reduced Fat Crumbles (with just 260 mg) a winner.

president feta cheese

Feta’s upside: Even some full-fats—like Whole Foods 365 Crumbled Feta—don’t top 3 grams of saturated fat per ounce.

Look for:No more than 2 grams of sat fat and 300 mg of sodium in 1 oz.

Fresh goat cheese

We didn’t find any reduced-fat goat cheeses, but plenty of regulars have just 3½ grams of saturated fat per ounce. Sodium? No problem. Few top 100 milligrams. Our tasters’ favorite: Trader Joe’s Creamy, Fresh Chevre log.

Trader Joe's chèvre goat cheese

Need just a little goat cheese for your salad or crackers? Individually wrapped medallions from Montchevre will wait patiently in your refrigerator until you’re ready for them.

Look for:No added sugars and no more than 3½ grams of sat fat in 1 oz.

Photos: grinchh/ (top), Good Culture (Good Culture), Fage (Fage), Jennifer Urban/CSPI (all others).