Pot cheese is a staple in the Polish kitchen, not to mention the kitchen of other cultures, like German, Russian, and Ukrainian. A common fresh cheese sold in American supermarkets that comes close to it in terms of being a staple in the dairy aisle is cottage cheese. But it is definitely not the same thing! Polish pot cheese, called twaróg or ser biały (i.e., white cheese) is salt-free and drier than cottage cheese. It also has a shorter shelf-life but is more versatile than cottage cheese. This type of fresh cheese is the base for many Polish dishes, most notably cheesecake (sernik) and cheese-filled pierogis or naleśniki (Polish-style crêpes). However, many Poles eat this delicious fresh cheese for breakfast or a light supper with little adornment and preparation. Mound some cheese on a plate or in a bowl, mix in chopped chives and sliced radishes, serve it with a slice of rye bread, and you’ve prepared a delicious light meal for yourself. Or top the cheese with fresh fruit as you would plain yogurt for a refreshing breakfast.
The cheese is not exactly a snap to make yourself, but it is rewarding, on par with making homemade bread. If you live in Poland, there is really no need to make it yourself at home because the store-bought cheese is terrific. If you go to a supermarket in Poland, you’ll find nearly a full aisle dedicated to this cheese. Here in the United States, it’s not easy to find anymore, which is quite a shame since it’s so tasty, fresh, and healthy. I believe Whole Foods may carry a saltier, American version of this cheese–called “Farmer Cheese,” sold in one pound packages. The company that produces it is called Friendship Dairies, a New York-based company. In the alternative, if you have a Polish deli nearby, you’ll definitely be able to find the Polish version of the cheese there.
When we make the cheese at home, there is no denying that we make a lot of it at once, much more than one pound. While I say “we,” I really mean my husband. He is the master twaróg maker in the house. At this point, he makes the cheese using his instincts, and so it was no small feat for me to get the recipe down in writing!
My husband always makes a large batch from 2 gallons of milk and some yogurt, using a process that takes around 4-7 days, depending on how warm it is in the kitchen. I have seen recipes on the internet that provide for a small batch that can be made immediately, but I haven’t tried doing it that way yet. With a big batch, we are set with breakfast for 2 for about 5 days, and also one supper for 5, and some left overs. For a cheesecake, you’ll need 1 kg of cheese, which is about half the recipe.
Below is the recipe. Meet me afterwards for step-by-step instructions with a few photos.
[NOTE: Recipe may be halved if you want to make a smaller, 1 kg batch. Be sure to use a smaller pot than recommended below.]
Pour about a half of a gallon of milk (whole or 2%) into a large heavy bottom 8 quart pot. Mix in about 5 cups of Greek or Indian-style plain yogurt. We’ve found that either of these types of yogurt give the most consistent results. After mixing the yogurt with a small amount of milk, pour in the rest of the milk and stir with a spoon until well-combined. Then cover with the lid from the pot or, better yet, a large flat lid if you have one.
Let the pot sit for about 4-7 days, or until it looks like the entire pot is full of thick yogurt that can be cut with a knife and jiggles when you shake the pot. During the colder winter months, it may take longer to get it to the correct consistency. Check the pot after 3 days for mold. Remove and discard any gray/black spots you see with a spoon.
In the photo below, the mixture is not yet ready. It needs to be thicker, so in this case, one more day was needed.
When the desired consistency has been reached, remove the lid and put the pot on a burner turned on medium heat. Heat uncovered for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring once or twice over this time period. After 45 minutes, “cut” through the middle with a long knife or spoon and see if the cheese has separated from the greenish whey. If not, let it heat for up to 15 minutes longer. [The temperature of the mixture should reach 100ºF/38ºC.] When the cheese is done heating, you can turn off the burner. Let the cheese sit there for about 2 hours.
Line a colander with a very thin clean kitchen towel and place the colander in the kitchen sink. Working in batches, pour or ladle some of the cheese into the lined colander and let the whey drain. If you want to catch some or all of the whey, place a bowl under the colander, but be careful so that the bowl doesn’t get too full of whey such that the bottom of the colander is swimming in the drained off whey. Once the whey touches the bottom of the colander, remove the bowl and let the remaining whey drain from the cheese directly into the sink (or into a new bowl). In the photo below, I’ve saved some of the whey in a jar, which I put in the refrigerator for future use. I like to add some to the pancake batter replacing some of the milk or to bread dough replacing some of the water.
Repeat the process of pouring/ladling cheese into the colander and draining off the whey until all of the cheese has been transferred into the colander.
Tightly fold the overhang cloth over the cheese.
At this point, the cheese will need to be weighed down over night to press out more liquid from the cheese. Cover the top with a plate and weigh it down with a pot full of water (or a full gallon of milk) and place the colander in the original 8 quart pot or an extra large bowl so that any remaining whey can drain into the pot or bowl.
Place your contraption into the refrigerator overnight (see above). By morning, your cheese will be ready. Carefully flip the cheese out into a large bowl and use immediately, or cover the bowl and store the cheese in the refrigerator to future use. The cheese keeps for about 2 weeks (but check for bitterness after one week).
The bowl below is filled with about 1 kilogram of cheese – enough for the cheesecake that my daughter was gearing up to make that day. The rest was used to make cheese-filled naleśniki.