This is a recipe for making Ukrainian fresh cheese (сир, творог) at home. I use this cheese mostly to make syrnyky (сирники), which are simple cheese pancakes. This requires cheese that is quite dry, firm, with a neutral taste, and the recipe is optimized for that. This recipe's result should be more like cheese you'd get at a farmer's market in Ukraine than store-bought (which is usually too crumbly and too sour). I promise it will be much better than anything you can buy in a store in the US.
There are lots of recipes for fresh cheese around. I've settled on this one because it's very little work, pretty quick, and easy to reliably reproduce. I make this in the US, hence the imperial measures and the use of buttermilk.
- A large pot. Stainless steel works best. Many people advise against enameled pots - in my experience, they work, but do seem more likely to burn the milk.
- Cheesecloth. This one is good.
- A colander.
- 1 Gallon of whole milk. Good milk makes good cheese, so I usually use "premium" organic milk.
- 1/2 Gallon 1.5% buttermilk.
- Optional: juice of one or two lemons.
This should yield about 1,100 grams (2.5 lbs) of cheese, which is a lot, enough for 6-8 servings of syrnyky.
You can vary these proportions. You definitely need some sour milk product. Could be kefir or something else. I find that the buttermilk gives a cleaner, more neutral taste than kefir, which is what I want for my syrnyky. Good buttermilk is also easily available and cheap.
The lemon juice can be omitted altogether and it's very non-traditional. It does seem to help the milk curdle. I usually use 2 lemons which gives a detectable lemony taste to the cheese - again, this is very non-traditional, I just like it.
It's very simple: you will heat the milk, add the buttermilk to curdle, let it cool, then strain it.
- Pour the milk into the pot and set over low heat. Stir occasionally and watch it. Your goal is to heat the milk as thoroughly and evenly as you can without burning it or letting it boil. In the meantime, squeeze the lemons if using.
- Once the milk is very hot all the way through and just about to boil (or if you lost track and it has boiled), take it off the heat. Get your buttermilk and lemon juice ready. Give the milk a strong stir and immediately pour in the lemon juice and the buttermilk. Let it mix with the milk as it's still moving in the pot, but don't stir anymore. You should see the milk immediately starting to curdle.
- Set the pot aside and let it cool completely to room temperature - this is very important.
- Once completely cool, you should ideally see solid curds completely separated from almost-clear whey. That is your goal. If the whey is still milky and the curds not very well-defined when the pot is completely cooled - then next time you need to adjust some part of the process above. But you can still proceed for now.
- Line the colander with two layers of cheesecloth (or one sheet folded in half). With something like a slotted spoon, move the curds into the cheesecloth. when it's about 1/3-1/2 full, tie the angles up so that it can be hung for straining. Divide the curds into two or three cheesecloth sacks - this will help it strain better and faster.
- Hang the cheesecloth sacks to strain. I usually hang it on a stick inside the same pot and put this in the refrigerator.
- Leave the cheesecloths hanging overnight. The cheese should now be fairly dry and ready to eat, but to make syrnyky I like to make it as dry as I can, so I put the cheesecloth(s) into a colander, weigh down with something heavy, and leave for several more hours.
- In the end, the cheese should be quite dry, firm, with a neutral and delicate taste. You can just enjoy it at this point, or you can cook with it.
- If using the ingredient amounts given above, you should end up with about 1,100 grams of cheese.