Thursday, April 26, 2012

Homemade Cottage Cheese



Intro
Everyone who was growing up in Russia region knows how important cottage cheese is for child's development. In our childhood, resisting to eat it, we all being told that "If you are not going to eat cottage cheese you will lose all your teeth very early". And our parents were using all their creativity to stuff us with dishes which had "undercover" cottage cheese in it. Here are were all those sweet cheese patties, noodle cheese kugels or cheesy cream-of-wheat bakes come from. Almost everyone of us now, in adult life, just loves homemade cottage cheese. By the way, it is totally not the same as store bought one. Try to make it and you will see it by yourself.

What it is
It is dairy curd made of milk fermented with buttermilk cultures.


How it's served
In a simple way, it can be eaten with just a honey (think maple syrup, sugar, etc.) on top. Russians favorite way to eat it "as is" is with drop of sugar and dollop of sour cream mixed in. With a bagel or healthy-style cookie it would be a perfect breakfast.
Also there are numerous ways to bake or fry with cottage cheese - from cheese croquettes and dumplings to delicious cakes (you should try my mother-in-law cottage cheese cake).
Also there is one of my favorite savory dishes: cottage cheese garlic and dill pate. Sounds weird? Not at all for me - it's delicious.

Some side comments
Actually a lot of cultures have its own versions of cottage cheese - Indian paneer (same thing, just put under press it has lower moisture level); Italian ricotta (same thing - just curds formed with used of acid, weirdly ricotta is milder in taste contrary Russian style cottage cheese which retains sour taste from fermented milk); or Armenian string cheese ; or Latin America's queso blanco.

How to store it
I store my cottage cheese in a closed glass container for 5-7 days, in a fridge. Make sure you use clean and dry spoon when scooping out of a container (as actually with any other food if you want it to keep longer in your fridge).

Variations
Each Eastern European grandma has her own favorite way to make homemade cottage cheese: one like to place pot with sour milk in a warm oven overnight to get curd separated; another one do it in a double boiler. I have chosen the simplest way which I'm about to describe below.

Tips
I use 2% fat milk to get low-calorie cottage cheese but keep in mind that the best tasting cottage cheese will come out of whole milk.


Homemade Cottage Cheese
Tvorog (Russian)
For about 4 lb of cottage cheese use:


1 gallon of milk (your choice of fat %)
1/2 gallon of plain buttermilk (any fat% will work)


- In a large pot, stir together milk with a buttermilk, cover with a lid and leave it on your counter top for up to three days. Depending on your room temperature, it will ferment during this time period. When it will look like buttermilk - it ready for the next step.
- Place pot on a stove on a lowest heat setting and let it sit there for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- When curds will separate from a whey, take pot off heat and let it stand for 20-30 minutes to cool down a little bit.
- Place large strainer steady into your sink and lay it with cheese cloth (make 3 layers or so). I use piece of thin cotton fabric that I have specifically for this purpose (on a pictures below - blue fabric)
- Pour pot content into the strainer to drain. Flip edges of fabric over to cover cheese and leave it alone for a couple hours.
- As optional step, you can place your cheese, right in a cheese cloth, under press (between two cutting boards for example) to get rid of extra moisture. Although I don't do this usually unless I need my cheese tougher for some reason.
- When cheese is drained, you can easily transfer it (just use your clean hands!) into glass dish, cover it and store in a fridge.
- Enjoy it as I did for today's breakfast (see picture on a top of this page): mix 3 tablespoons of cheese with 1 tablespoon of sour cream and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sugar on top. For a leaner version just pour maple syrup of honey on top.

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IN PICTURES


Buttermilk is added to the milk.

After couple days, mix is completely fermented.

After 20 minutes of heating it started to separate.

In about two hours of sitting on a stove, it's ready to be taken off the heat.


Draining into the strainer.

Just poured into the strainer.

Left alone for a couple of hours.
All ready to be transferred to a glass container.

It's easily come off the cloth and picked up with your palms and into the container. At this point sneak a piece into your mouth and taste a delicious piece of mother-of-all-cheeses.

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