Updated: Apr 28
Any Russian/Ukrainian kitchen is incomplete without tvorog, a kind of soft, tangy cheese made from soured milk. It can be eaten plain for breakfast, as I often do, or drizzled with honey and topped with fruits, berries, or nuts for an afternoon snack with a cup of tea. Tvorog is a key ingredient in some of the most distinctive Russian dishes: blinchiki (crepe-like pancakes, vareniki, vatrushki (open-faced round pastries), syrniki (cheese pancakes), paskha (the pyramid-shaped raw cheesecake made for Easter), tvoroznaya zapekanka (baked cheese), pirozki (hand pies filled with cheese), and many more dishes, both savory and sweet.
The traditional way to make tvorog is simply to let fresh, unpasteurized milk sour overnight and then heat it until curds form. This yields a soft, slightly sweet cheese. But the problem with this method is it’s unpredictable, as the curdling time can vary from batch to batch and sometimes takes many hours depending on your room temperature and the wild yeast in the air. I, like most Russians, add a little bit of kefir to sour the milk and ensure the rapid formation of curds. Kefir lends a sour tang that I love, plus there can never be too much good bacteria for your gut, right?
The liquid that is left behind when you make cheese is called whey. Be sure to save it! Some people call whey liquid gold, and I can see why. Whey has lots of protein. One of these proteins is Lactoferrin, which acts as a powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent. Whey also contains vitamin B2, or riboflavin, which helps the body to convert carbohydrates into fuel. It keeps for a good week in the refrigerator and you can add it to other recipes to make a tender dough that has hints of sour and provides some probiotics (good bacteria). One of my favorite ways to use whey is in buttermilk pancakes. Yes, instead of buttermilk, use whey!!!
Today I’m going to show you how to make farmer’s cheese. It’s very simple and requires just two ingredients! This is something the kids can help with as well. When looking back through my pictures recently, I found a picture of the first time Thomas helped me make cheese. He had so much fun! Isn't he cute?
I’ve also added a bonus recipe for baked farmer’s cheese. It’s somewhat similar to cheesecake, but it’s not as sweet. You’re welcome to adjust the sugar to your tastes.
Tvorog (Farmer’s Cheese)
Time to prep milk: 15 minutes
Time waiting for curds: 12 hours
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Time draining curds: 4 hours
Total time: 16 hours and 30 minutes
Yield: Just over 2 lbs. of cheese
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
Tvorog (Farmer's Cheese) Ingredients
1 gallon of good quality whole milk
1 cup plain kefir
I recommend using organic grass-fed milk or raw milk if you're lucky enough to find it.
I use homemade kefir, but any kind works. If you can't find kefir, just use plain regular yogurt or buttermilk.
Tvorog (Farmer's Cheese) Directions
1. Pour the milk into a pot with a nonstick bottom.
2. Slowly bring milk to 100-105 F on low heat.
3. Remove from heat and add kefir, then stir with a wooden spoon.
4. Cover the pot and let it sit in the warmest place in your kitchen for about 12 hours. It’s okay if it sits a little longer or shorter. When it’s ready, you’ll notice the milk looks like regular plain yogurt.
5. Put the pot back on the stove on low heat, and gently bring it to a simmer, DO NOT STIR for 15-20 minutes. What I like to do is turn off the heat as soon as it starts to simmer and let it cool down. I repeat that process twice so that it’s broken up into about 5-minute chunks for 15 minutes. This way I end up with more cheese and less whey. However, you can just let it simmer for 15 minutes without turning the heat off and on.
6. Line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl. Slowly drain the milk through the cheesecloth, and let it sit for 3-4 hours until the curds are firm. Transfer the curds to a storage container and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze up to a month.
7. Transfer the whey to a clean jar and store in the refrigerator for another purpose.
You should get a little bit more than 2 pounds of cheese with this recipe, but you only need 2 pounds for the bonus Baked Farmer’s Cheese recipe below.
Tvoroznaya Zapekanka (Baked Farmer’s Cheese)
Prep Time: 15 minutes active work + 1-2 hours to soak cherries
Cook Time: 55-65 minutes
Total Time: 2-3 hours
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
Tvoroznaya Zapekanka (Baked Farmer’s Cheese) Ingredients
2 pounds farmer’s cheese
5 tablespoons corn or potato starch
¾ cups cane sugar (feel free to use monk fruit for a sugar free option)
Pinch of sea salt
½ cup (1 stick) melted butter
1 cup soaked tart cherries (soak in water for 1-2 hours)
This recipe calls for ¾ cups of sugar. My mom would use even less. It’s not meant to be as sweet as cheesecake, but you can increase the sugar up to 1 cup if you would like.
To boost the flavor or the cherries, feel free to soak them in orange juice or in your favorite kind of fragrant tea.
I don't like to throw away the vanilla bean shell because vanilla beans are so expensive. To make vanilla bean extract: Add vodka and the leftover bean to a glass jar and seal it tightly. Let it sit for about 3 months in a dark place (no sunlight at all!), and you're good to go!
Tvoroznaya Zapekanka (Baked Farmer’s Cheese) Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
2. Grease a 12-inch cake pan with butter and lay baking paper on the bottom.
3. In a mixer with the whisk attachment, add the cheese and mix on medium speed for 30 seconds.
4. Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks.
5. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is a pale color and looks fluffy.
6. Add the egg yolk mixture to the cheese.
7. Add the butter and cornstarch, then scrape the vanilla bean into the mixture and whisk on medium speed to mix it all together.
8. Drain the cherries and add them to the cheese mixture.
9. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with salt until the whites are stiff and form peaks.
10. Adding a little at a time, gently fold the egg whites into the cheese. Do not add it all at once.
11. Pour the mixture into your prepared pan and bake for 1 hour.
12. Gently remove the pan from the oven and let the cheese cool completely in the pan.
13. With an offset spatula, loosen the cheese and remove the pan ring.
14. Decorate with your favorite toppings such as berries, fruit, and nuts, whipped cream, and edible flowers. Serve with a cup of tea.
It is normal for the cheese to lose volume while cooling.
Baking time varies from time to time and can take 55-65 minutes. Try not to open the oven for the first 30 minutes of baking.
I hope you'll make this recipe soon. If you do, please tag me #innichka_chef on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest.