The Most Lithuanian of Cheeses

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Cottage cheese is a very popular component in Lithuanian cooking. First, what is it? Cottage cheese is a curdled milk product with a mild flavor and a creamy, non-homogeneous, soupy texture. It is also known as curds and whey. No, it doesn’t sound overly appetizing, although little Miss Muffet didn’t mind it…

Farmers cheese is made by pressing the whey from the curds (compared to just draining, for cottage cheese). It tastes more acidic than cottage cheese and has a firmer texture due to its lower moisture content. In Lithuanian cuisine, cottage cheese is typically not as wet as that commonly found in North America grocery stores, and is more similar to ricotta. What about cream cheese? Under Canadian Food and Drug Regulations cream cheese must contain at least 30% milk fat and a maximum of 55% moisture. In other countries, it is defined differently and may need a considerably higher fat content.

So these three types of cheese are similar, but used for different purposes. Here, the cottage cheese we refer to, “varškė” in Lithuanian, is not cream cheese, and is not farmer’s cheese, unless most of the moisture is firmly pressed out of it. Lithuanians eat varškė as a dairy product with bread, for snacks, with sweet or savoury add-ins or an ingredient in any recipe calling for ricotta or feta-like cheese. Cheesecake quickly comes to mind, or the comforting “varškėčiai” or “virtinukai” – the cottage cheese dumplings or pancakes some of us ate as children. The two terms can be confusing, but the key is that the pancakes (not true pancakes) are fried, while the dumplings are boiled.

For varškėčiai, the basic recipe is:

8 ounces (250 g) cottage cheese

2 eggs

3 tablespoons sour cream

1½ cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch salt

Mix eggs and cottage cheese in a bowl, sifting the flour in gradually (you may just need a cup and a bit). With moistened hands, shape the dough into patties and fry in oil.

Varškės virtinukai are not the filled ravioli-type dumplings many of us call “koldūnai”, but are so easy to make they are called “tinginiai” (lazybones) or “durniukai” (little fools). Ingredients are the same as for the pancakes:

8 ounces (250 g) cottage cheese

1 egg

5 tablespoons flour

4 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla sugar

Pinch salt

Mash ingredients together with a fork.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into thick ropes and cut into diamond shapes. Boil in salted water for 5 minutes. Serve with sour cream, butter, sugar or jam. Note: A “Mom-type” sauce can be made by melting a “finger-sized” chunk of butter in a frying pan, and blending ina few tablespoons of sour cream and a pinch of salt.

Couldn’t be easier! Next week – a culinary adventure: make your own cottage cheese.