I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been wanting to bake a good old Polish cheesecake, only to find that getting my hands on the main ingredient: curd or farmer’s cheese in Sydney was as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. There have been times when I’d seen it, only to forget where it was or the Polish delis had run out, and so the cheesecake making remained on an infinite hold.
I thought my best bet to figure out a way of perhaps making it myself or at least finding a substitute would be to ask Mum, because I recall Grandma used to make her own buttermilk and a bunch of different cheeses at home, and Mum makes a killer cheesecake! And sure enough, she knew. All it takes is 1 ingredient, 10 minutes cooking time and a little patience… and that ingredient? Buttermilk! As you can imagine, the cheese is different from the widely available ricotta in that it is low in fat (2%) and has a slight sour tang to it. Lovely.
Although the yield is not high, 1 litre of buttermilk makes about 200g curd cheese, it’s just perfect for us and a small cheesecake to share. Having said that, I have eaten the last batch spread on slices of rye sourdough, drizzled with honey. Like in the old days, when I was a little girl back in the 19 hundreds, as I was reminded cheekily by a little boy recently…
Farmer’s (curd) cheese
Any good quality buttermilk will be fine for this recipe. While it is advisable to use a candy thermometer to check the temperature of the milk has reached 70C (160F), you should be able to see clearly when to turn the heat off – most of the cheese will have separated and the yellowish whey will be covering more than three quarters of the pan. The longer you leave the cheese to drain, the drier it will become, I recommend about 2 hours. Add a tablespoon of fresh cream to the cheese if you want it less crumbly. I use a large hospital grade gauze as my cheesecloth.
For the curd cheese:
- 1lt buttermilk
- 1/2 m² cheesecloth
To make curd cheese: pour milk into a 2lt capacity saucepan. Place over small heat and warm up, stirring occasionally until the milk has reached 70C (160F) and the whey has clearly separated from the curd – see note above. Cover with a lid allow to cool to near room temperature.
Line a sieve with a cheesecloth. Place over a large bowl. Strain the cooled curd and whey mixture over the cloth, discard the whey. Gather the curd up in the cheesecloth and twist the overhanging cloth, squeezing out extra whey. Leave in a sieve or hang over the bowl using a chopstick threaded through the gathered cloth and allow to drain for up to 2 hours.
To store: remove cheese from the cloth (it should be a nice rustic ball), and transfer to a food safe container.
To serve: use for cheesecakes, dumpling and crepe fillings, crumbled over salads and spread on sourdough bread and drizzled with honey or your favourite fruit compote.