Latvian Cheese (Jāņu siers)
Līgo and Jāņi or summer solstice is one of the largest Latvian celebrations. Celebrated on June 23 & 24, it is two days and a night of food, singing and dancing. Traditions demand that the house is decorated with flowers, birch, oak and rowan, beer is made, cheese is tied and the celebration table does not run out of food. Even though this is the shortest night of the year, it may be a tough job for the hosts as no one would sleep in order to gain good health and cheerful spirit for the following year. The night is spent singing, eating, drinking, having a bonfire (and jumping over it to prevent evil spirits and illness) and looking for magical fern blossoms (symbol of fertility, if you get my drift).
It is the duty of the hostess to tie the cheese and give it to any visitors (Jāņa bērni) coming in their yard. According to Latvian customs, providing the cheese makes hosts’ cows to produce milk in abundance and ward off illness. These days most of the people live in a city, but Jāņu siers (cheese), either store-brought or home-made, is always on the table.
As I have not made the cheese before, and I can recall only one occasion it was made at home, the recipe has been based on the multiple internet searches and common sense. So get your muslin cloth ready and tie some cheese!
- 3l full fat milk
- 1kg cottage cheese
- 2 eggs, lightly whisked
- 100g butter
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 50x50 cm cheese cloth
- Prepare a large bowl, sieve (or a colander) and dampen the cheesecloth.
- Pour the milk in a large saucepan and add the cottage cheese. Heat the mixture on a medium heat stirring frequently.
- After 5-7 minutes the milk and cheese will separate, creating yellow-green whey.
- Place a fine sieve over a large bowl and pour the mixture in the sieve. Once it is drained return the mixture to the saucepan. Make sure the saucepan has no residue left in it, if required give it a quick rinse.
- Turn the heat on low and add the egg, butter, caraway seeds and salt and combine well. Heat the mixture for about 7 minutes while constantly stirring. It will become thicker and the curds will be more prominent.
- Place the cheesecloth in the sieve and pour the mixture in it. To "tie" the cheese pull the corners of the cloth together and spin them until you get a parcel of cheese. Place the parcel in the sieve and let it cool down for 5 minutes. When the parcel has slightly cooled down, squeeze the excess liquid out with your hands (warning - the middle of the parcel will be hot).
- Place the cheese parcel back in the sieve, cover with a plate or a bowl to add weight on top and place the sieve over a bowl (so the excess liquid can still drain). Place the bowl in a fridge.
- Cheese is ready to eat when completely cooled down.
To get brighter yellow coloured cheese you can add a teaspoon of turmeric or couple drops of yellow food colouring.