Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could make cheese at home.
I should qualify that to say making cheese easily at home. I know people who make complex things at home all the time, and I admire them, but I am known to run out of patience when the instruction list has more than four steps or I need to construct some specialty apparatus to accomplish the task. Not so with lietuviškas sūris, a soft, mild Lithuanian farmer’s cheese.
It helped a lot that this recipe for making sūris was thoroughly tested by my friend Jana, who teaches Lithuanian cooking in Toronto. She demonstrated her technique to me and a dozen others at the last Women’s Weekend at Camp Neringa. As the most challenging step seemed to be waiting for a pot of liquid to come to a boil, I was emboldened to try at home.
- 1 gallon raw milk
- 1 half gallon buttermilk
- optional: caraway seeds
That’s it. Really. Just a note on the milk: Jana found that the ultra-pasteurized milk available in most groceries doesn’t work, as it doesn’t readily form curds. You can usually get raw milk from your local food co-op or a nearby dairy if you’re lucky enough to live close to one.
- 2 big pots
- wooden spoon
- 2 cutting boards
- heavy weight
Pour the raw milk into a large pot, and heat it until it just begins to boil, stirring to prevent it from burning. You can judge this by eye, watching for small bubbles forming around the sides of the pot, but I found it easier to take the judgment out of it and use a thermometer after consulting The Joy of Cooking about milk’s boiling point. After the milk reaches 180°F but well before it reaches 212°F, remove it from the heat and pour in the buttermilk. Curds should form immediately. Stir gently if they need encouragement, but be careful not to break up them up too much. If you’re Little Miss Muffet, I suppose you could stop here to enjoy your curds and whey, but I recommend continuing.
Line your colander with cheesecloth, making sure you have enough overhang to gather it up into a bag and tie it off. I’ll digress here a bit to discuss cheesecloth. The stuff you can buy in the grocery store labeled cheesecloth is a flimsy gauze, and you’ll need about three layers so you don’t lose the curds through the loose weave. Real cheesecloth is thin muslin, which you can buy at a fabric store. You could also use a flour sack or a 100% muslin pillowcase. The muslin, sack and pillowcase have the bonus of being reusable; all they need are a good washing in hot water with unscented detergent. I was lucky enough to have a perfect pillowcase of my grandmother’s, complete with beautifully tatted edges.
If you want to save the whey (you can use it in place of milk or buttermilk when making breads, muffins and pancakes, in soups in place of stock, in smoothies, to boil pasta, even to water outdoor plants), place the lined colander in another large pot. Put the colander and empty pot in the sink and carefully pour or ladle in the hot curds and whey. Once most of the liquid whey has drained out, gather up the corners and hang the bag somewhere to continue draining for a bit. I just tie my pillowcase to the kitchen faucet.
Once most of the liquid has dripped out, give a last good wring, tie the bag securely, place it between two clean cutting boards and put a heavy weight on top of it to squeeze out the rest of the liquid. You can use a cheese press if you have one (or you could make one, but what did I say about specialized apparatus?). Just for fun, some illustrations of old Lithuanian cheese-making tools here and here. My personal favorite is the bed leg.
You’ll want to press the cheese somewhere it can be undisturbed for 8-10 hours or overnight to set. I use my laundry sink. The longer you press the cheese, the drier it will be.
Once the cheese is set, turn it out of the bag, and salt to taste. You can also sprinkle with caraway seeds if you like. Enjoy on a slice of lietuviška duona (dark Lithuanian bread) drizzled with honey. It makes a great breakfast, light lunch or snack any time!