Līgo and Jāņi or summer solstice is one of the biggest 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!
Here are some tips and tricks, picked up by members of Latvian Favourite Foods Facebook group:
– Don’t boil the milk, wait for first 3-4 bubbles
– If no whole milk (over 3%) is available, add 100ml of cream to milk
– Temperature is very important: the dry cheese has to melt when it is put back into the pot
– If not heated long enough, the cheese will be crumblier
– Dry curd cheese is the best, well drained cottage cheese also works. In the United States farmer’s cheese is the one to use.
If making cheese from the scratch seems too daunting, there is a shortcut, based on a family recipe shared by Maija. As with many Latvian recipes, it does not specify quantity of cheese, eggs or salt required, all is “pēc garšas” (based on taste).
Whichever recipe you chose, let us know how you went!
- 3l full fat milk
- 1kg cottage cheese
- 2 eggs, lightly whisked
- 100g butter
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 50x50 cm cheese cloth
- Pour the milk in a large saucepan and add the cottage cheese. Heat the mixture on a low heat stirring frequently.
- After 15-20 minutes the milk and cheese will separate, creating yellow-green whey.
- While milk and cottage cheese is heating up, melt the butter in a separate pot over low heat.
- Place a fine sieve over a large bowl and pour the mixture in the sieve. Once it is well drained, add the cheese mixture to the pot with melted butter.
- Turn the heat on low, and mix the cheese mixture with butter. Add egg, caraway seeds and salt and combine well. Heat the mixture for about 3-4 minutes while stirring constantly. 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 cheese parcel into a bowl, cover with a plate to add weight on top and place the bowl in a fridge.
- Cheese is ready to eat when completely cooled down, but ideally after 24 hours.
To get brighter yellow coloured cheese you can add a teaspoon of turmeric or couple drops of yellow food colouring.
June 18, 2014
There is no egg in recipe so I don’t think it will work, egg is the key ingredient to keep it all together, and to get yellow color (pls don’t add tumeric, good free range country eggs with bright yolks will do the trick!!)
June 18, 2014
The egg is third in the ingredient list. I used free range egg, my cheese turned out quite paled. But it tasted the same and I would never put food colouring in it.
June 20, 2014
if this is supposed for non- latvians .. .they will try to look for this ”magical” cheese cloth – it is called muslin cloth in English by the way!
June 22, 2014
Cheese cloth and muslin are both English terms and cheese cloth, in this case, is the correct term to use.
June 24, 2016
[…] Summer is finally here! We recently wrote about the Swedish solstice celebration of Midsommar, but they are not the only game in town for Midsummer festivities. In Latvia, the celebration around Midsummer is the biggest holiday of the year. Latvians celebrate both the nights of Midsummer eve, Līgo (Ligo), and the next day, which is known as St. John’s Day or Jāņi (Jani). Like their Swedish counterparts, Latvians spend the day outside to take in the very late sunsets, weaving flower crowns, dancing, eating and drinking. However one major point of difference between the Swedish and Latvian midsummer table is the cheese! In Latvia, one of the signature dishes of Jani is the bright yellow cheese known as Jāņu siers (Jaņi cheese), flavored with caraway seeds. Not only eaten on Jani, this is a dish you will find on any Latvian smorgasbord throughout the year, and you can find a recipe to make your own at Latvian Eats. […]
October 13, 2016
What would the US measures be
October 25, 2016
US measures are:
6 pints of milk
2 pounds of cottage cheese
1 stick of butter
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of caraway seeds
June 17, 2017
So happy- thank you! I am going to make this for my 83 year old 100% Latvian Dad for Fathers Day. Do you have the recipe for original Latvian cheesecake. I found one that he said was close bit not the one he misses. It has cottage cheese, yellow raisins, eggs etc. Thanks again- he is going to be thrilled if I make this right. Sincerely, Lisa Harty ( half Latvian)
June 17, 2017
I have the recipe on the website, but, as with all Latvian recipes, every family adds their own little quirks that changes taste :)
June 18, 2017
Thank you- my Latvian cheese did not work- I used regular cottage cheese- drained well . I halved the recipe as a test first with 1 pound regular drained cottage cheese and 6 cups milk. I saw it said to use Farmers cheese in the states. Oops. I am going to try your other recipe. Thanks again.
June 18, 2017
I spoke too soon! It did work. I was waiting to see the yellow green whey but when I put in the sieve- there the yellow green color cam into the bowl. Now it is formed in cheesecloth and weighted down in the fridge. Victory! Thanks so much! Happy Father’s Day <3
November 9, 2018
[…] real farmer’s cheese (not American cottage cheese) and full-fat dairy. Recipes can be found here, here, and […]
June 14, 2019
Hi, I’m vegetarian and do not eat eggs. Although I know it is the binding ingredient, but can you tell anything that I can replace it with? Thank you
June 17, 2019
thank you – fabulous, easy recipe – my first try came out very well!
May 3, 2020
Hello, I am working in an illustration series depicting Ligo and Jani. I am an agronomist researcher and I have been doing a lot of documentation work to have a very realistic outcome of this fantastic celebration. Can you refer me to a page or someone send me a photo of this recipe in latvian language? Probably you have a latvian cookbook, I was not able to find it online (all I find is in English). I would love to chat with someone about this and other celebrations. I visited Riga and fell in love with it, so I hope I can go back sometime soon. Thanks a lot!
September 13, 2021
[…] various purposes throughout the world for eons, caraway seed is a common spice in food including cheese, stew, and perhaps most notably, rye bread. Unlike a number of other spices, it seems brewing with […]