Friday, May 29, 2015

Russian Easter Cheese

 Russian Easter Cheese - Not Just For Easter!

A few years ago I had the privilege to be invited to a friend's house for Easter dinner. Being of Russian and Greek descent, she cooked up quite a mixture of yummy food. One delicious dish was a light cheese that practically melted in my mouth. I never forgot the soft and sweet yellow delicacy and had wanted to find the recipe for years. Recently, while the Test Chickens were thinking up projects, over a nice glass of wine, I mentioned this cheese and we were off and running. We pored through quite a few recipes until we found one that sounded the most like what I had remembered and decided to give it a try. It's traditionally an Easter Cheese called Hrudka but I think it's great served anytime for any occasion.

5 eggs
1/2 liter of milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 Tbsp salt
(you can add nutmeg or cinnamon for a little extra flavor if you want)
Pour milk into a pot and set at low heat.
Add eggs to the milk. Add salt and sugar.

Mix well with an egg beater, but do not beat vigorously. You don't need a double boiler for this but try not to scorch the bottom.

Stir the mixture constantly for 20-30 minutes until  it separates into curd-like pieces and "white water". Cook for a few minutes after the white water appears.

Pour the mixture into a strainer lined with a cheesecloth or porous kitchen towel. Pour off the water. Squeeze out remaining liquid (be careful, it's hot!), tie off the cloth (tightly) and hang it up where it can drip dry. If you tie the top of the cloth with a string, it will give the cheese a ball like shape.

Give it another couple of squeezes to help the liquid drain off and then allow it to cool. Place it in the refrigerator and allow it to set for 3-4 hours, then unwrap it. Tuh Duh!

The cheese can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, but trust me, when it goes bad, you'll know it because it will smell like rotten eggs!

Happy cooking!

Here's how this cheese is supposed to look when you unwrap the towels:

For my part, I had never heard of this food and was extremely skeptical about the purported Russian origin. My poring over recipes consisted mostly of Internet searches wherein I found most references to this dish were of Slovakian origins. Feeling superior because I figure I'd been right about the origins, I further discovered the Slovakian name (Hrudka) and some methodology.

In true Test Chicken fashion, each of us Chickens chose a particular version of the dish. Over there on the left you saw the sweet version. I was tasked with the savory. I omitted the sugar and, instead of nutmeg or cinnamon, I added a pinch each of freshly ground black pepper, chopped parsley and chopped chives. Otherwise the process is the same. Here is a photo series of how it looks as it cooks and comes to curd consistency:
The whole thing was fascinating and satisfying that we actually got it right, never having seen it done before. However, Chicken One over there thinks this recipe is the chicken's pajamas, whereas I was not so enthralled with the taste. Because I'm not a big egg fan, and this "cheese" is really just a ball of  very eggy custard (read, scrambled eggs), my Chicken counterpart and others in the household ended up eating most of it. I abstained after perfunctorily tasting both of the "cheeses". And, yes, I'm aware how pompous I sound!

In any case, I am thrilled to learn about a dish from another culture and to try it with the success we had. No SCAFU to report this time. And it wasn't even Easter!