How to Make Farmer’s Cheese Like Your Grandmother Did

I was never very interested in farmer’s cheese when my grandmother used to make it. I have these memories of her standing over the stainless steel sink in her tiny yellow kitchen with the gold flecked Formica counters and pouring a steaming hot mixture through a cheesecloth while beads of sweat popped up on her creased and weary brow. What with all the stirring and the . . . uh . . . pressing? and the . . . I wasn’t really sure what-all, it seemed like too big of a production for a Thoroughly Modern Millie like me.

It took me almost thirty-eight years to work up an interest in making this Lithuanian country staple, and I only learned because one of my blog readers (who I finally met at camp last week!) showed me how. (But let it be written and let it be said, when I gushed to my mom about it, she said, “I could have told you that.”)

It took about thirty minutes, we did it in an un-air conditioned camp kitchen, and I didn’t even work up a sweat (but probably only because I stood around taking pictures while R?ta worked.) We ate it later that evening on black bread with honey and it was out of this world. So I’ve taken it upon myself to transcribe the lessons I learned from Lithuanian Jedi Cheesemaster R?ta (Roo-tah) and present them to you in an easy to read and visually stunning format here.

Let’s tie those aprons around our healthy Midwestern middles and begin!

You probably already have everything you need to make this cheese right in your very own ice box:

  • A gallon of whole or 2% milk
  • A half gallon of buttermilk
  • About a half cup of water

That’s it. Plus a cheesecloth and maybe some salt and caraway seeds, if you wish. I’ll talk about the cheesecloth in a minute.

First, pour just enough water to cover the bottom of a large stockpot. This will help prevent the milk from burning when you turn up the heat.

Here is my new friend and mentor Ruta, pouring some water into the pot

Next, pour in the gallon of milk you got from your icebox and turn the burner to about medium high.

Then hitch up your stockings and stand next to the oven for 20-30 minutes with hand on your hip stirring, stirring, stirring. Don’t even think about looking away from the stockpot to check your email or play a round of Angry Birds, do you understand? You want the milk to reach a point just before boiling. IF THE MILK BOILS, IT’S TOO LATE, and I’m not coming over there to help you scrub your mangled pot. The more quickly you can get the milk to the point of almost boiling, the more flavorful the cheese will be.

How do you know the milk is about to boil? It’s gonna start foaming, like the tide on the Baltic when Egl?, Žal?i? Karalien? (Egl?, Queen of Serpents) called out the special chant needed to summon her evil serpent husband after a brief and closely monitored visit with her family so that he could escort her back to the underwater digs where she was being held captive since adolescence.

Here is a rendering on the wall of our camp mess hall of the evil serpent after Egl?’s brother’s chopped him up:

Actually, he still looks kind of alive. And what’s up with the autonomous hatchet there in the middle? Funny, I never noticed that when we were painting this mural back in the 80s as kids. It looks like one of the brothers (there are always three of them) might have cut and run. Or some kid painted a bloody hatchet and said, “to hell with the guy.”

Once the milk has thickened up, is foaming mightily, and looks like it’s just about to boil, turn off the heat and pour in your half gallon of buttermilk. Then stir, stir, stir.

After awhile, the mixture will start to look like this:

Congratulations! You just made cottage cheese.

No, really. You can refrigerate and eat it if you want. But if you give up now, you will never be able to experience the hearty delicacy that is farmer’s cheese.

Next comes the part where I almost walked out of my lesson because R?ta started talking about sewing up your own cheesecloth. See, she doesn’t recommend using actual cheesecloth, but rather a thick canvas bag, like the kind that corn meal or whole wheat flour comes in straight from the mill. You can’t buy it at Target. You probably have to go to Whole Paycheck (Whole Foods), the mill, or a farmer. But that’s not the part that had me worried.

She said you have to wash the empty sack, cut it at the seams, and sew it into a triangular shaped pouch.

I KNOW

You can do it! Don’t give up.

(I bet you could even just staple it together. But shhhhh!)

Okay, now take your pouch and carefully, very carefully, pour the hot cottage cheese mixture into the bag. Please don’t scald yourself. R?ta held the cheese cloth bag open with a little rubber circle thingie they make to keep potato chips fresh while she scooped the mixture in with a ladle. I would recommend doing this, or asking your husband to hold the bag open with his bare hands while you pour. The liquid that seeps out through the bottom of the bag is called “whey.” Get it? Curds and whey? I was as astonished as you are right now.

This is the point when, if you wish, you can add salt and/or caraway seeds to taste.

You are almost done and it’s only been like twenty minutes! Even though doesn’t it seem like this blog post just keeps going on and on?

Okay, now tie the pouch tightly off at the top and set it on a cutting board.

Makeshift Cheese Press

Next, put another cutting board on top of it, fill your stockpot all the way up with cold water, and set it on top of the whole shebang. If you have a cheese press, you can use that, but you don’t really need one. The point is to squeeze as much water out of the cheese mixture as possible and set it.

The more water you press out, the denser and drier your cheese will be. You might want to check it after a few minutes and load it up with weight again. If you leave it on the moist side, the consistency will just be a little different. But you probably don’t want to leave it dripping wet.

After it’s pressed, let it sit on the cutting board for a few hours until it’s . . . uh . . . done. My friend R?ta said you don’t even have to refrigerate it, so when you get salmonella, you can blame it on her. We made our cheese at about 2:30 and it was ready to eat at 10:00 pm.

It’s best with jam or honey on a slice of hearty rye or black bread. Lithuanians eat it this way for breakfast or as a bed time snack.

Skanaus!

(Please check the comments because if I missed any steps, I’m hoping Ruta will chime in to correct me and add her two cents.)

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43 thoughts on “How to Make Farmer’s Cheese Like Your Grandmother Did

  1. RCK

    Rim –
    This is too funny! I had just taken my 3.5 mile run. Having returned home, I decided to savor a few slices of nothing else but… lietuviskas suris – farmer’s cheese, which my dear mother-in-law made for me yesterday. As I sat by my desk eating it and spending 10 minutes on FB, I noticed this post of yours. What’s comic is that as I was running, I figured tomorrow I’d ask my MIL to tell me how to make this stuff… you know she can’t make fast enough for me! So… having read this post, I’m going to give it a shot! All I’ve got to do is come up with the surmaiselis – the darn cheesecloth/canvas bag! Did you say you wanted to sew one for me??? I’ll let you know how it comes out! Hope I don’t boil the stuff! Thanks for posting… the pictures helped a lot, too!
    Glad you had a good time at S2! And you learned a very important craft! :)

    Reply
    1. Rima Post author

      Rita – I’m pretty sure that’s a cosmic sign that you should make some cheese! Bet man ?domu, ar Ponia K. panašiai j? gamina?

      Reply
  2. Mary Martinec

    I this works you will be my new favorite person. Love this stuff! My family always ate it with caraway spread with butter and sprinkled with a little salt. Killer, no?

    Reply
      1. Mary Martinec

        Rima, never underestimate the power of a comma. It’s cheese with caraway, spread with butter. Excuse me, I have to catch my panda, before he eats, shoots
        , and leaves. Keep it coming, Mary

        Reply
  3. JCK (Motherscribe)

    This sounds and looks absolutely delicious. I just love that you say “icebox.”

    I am a little concerned about the violent Lithuanian Children’s mob that painted that mural, though…

    Reply
    1. Rima Post author

      I probably should have mentioned that the mural depicts scenes from actual Lithuanian fairy tales. In the story of Egl?, Žal?i? Karalien?, her brothers actually do chop him up!

      Reply
  4. Aidas

    I remember that mural from my childhood, so it was painted something like 30-35 years ago. I don’t remember if I was involved in painting it… I’ve never thought of it as particularly violent (especially when compared to movies and video games these days), but rather as an imaginative rendering of a tale that we grew up with.

    The “autonomous hatchet” has always caught my eye too :)

    Reply
    1. Rima Post author

      Aidai – I never thought of it as particularly violent, either. I mean, that’s what happened in the story. And it’s a lot more benign than what happened to “devyngalvis slibinas,” no?

      Reply
  5. Audta

    A few more posts about this level of homemaking and you’re competition for the Mormon mommy bloggers. In fact, I’d like to see the eastern European mom bloggers and the mormon mom fashion bloggers go head to head on a roller derby rink.
    I might have to try making some cheese….

    Reply
    1. ginamonster

      The Mormon Mommy Bloggers kind of scare me. They have such perfection! But then, I am neither a Mommy or a Mormon. I would consider converting but kids are expensive and I’m pretty sure I’m frantic enough…

      Reply
  6. kakaty

    I love farmer’s cheese (who am I kidding – I love ALL cheese). I’m totally going to make this with Matilda soon. How fun! Thanks for posting this.

    I’m guessing that if you lack a flour sack you can use plain, washed muslin from JoAnns – at least that’s what I’m going to do.

    Reply
  7. Nic

    Excellent!

    When I came back from holiday in Canada with a ridiculous craving for poutine, I decided I’d make cheese curds for the power of their authenticity, but it sounded too scary. I’m re-inspired!

    Reply
  8. Laura66

    I couldn’t help but notice the “cheesecloth” is from the Old Graue Mill in Oak Brook, IL. I grew up near there and have visited the mill, too. Nice tour and they make corn meal there. Anyway, sounds yummy and I love your instructions, very funny and easy to understand! How’s that book coming, Rima?

    Reply
  9. ewa

    IT REALLY WORKS. I GREW UP ON THIS CHEESE. MY GRANDMOTHER USED TO TAKE FOREVER TO MAKE IT. I CAN’T BELIVE IT’S SO SIMPLE AND IT TASTE THE SAME. THANK YOU FOR GREAT RECIPE!!!!!!

    Reply
  10. David

    Thanks for posting this version!
    I’ve been experimenting with different ways to make Farmer’s Cheese including my German Grandmother’s. I tried vinegar (white and cider), lemon juice, and lime juice, but using buttermilk seems to give the cheese a better “cheese” flavor. It must be the cultures within the buttermilk.
    I also added a couple of pinches of Kosher salt with the buttermilk because my wife likes salty flavored cheeses.

    Reply
  11. Emilie

    Thanks for the recipe. I was searching for such a version to start preparing for (Russian) Orthodox Easter and use it in cheese Pascha. My mother told me about such a recipe and here it is! Excited to try it out. Thanks!

    Reply
  12. Kerry

    Wow! What a find! We just had a Women’s Weekend at Camp Neringa in Vermont last week and our friend Jana taught us how to make this cheese, too! She has had a hard time with the pasteurized milk and we used raw milk (not too hard to find in VT)- and that seemed to be the ticket! However, I just tried it and I didn’t get enough curds- lots of liquid left over- perhaps I let it get too hot. I’m on a mission though. (Hence I found this blog as I was looking for more info on how to do it better in the future!) Valio ir skanaus!
    -Kerry

    Reply
  13. Tamar

    I was wondering if the results are the same if I make it in a smaller quantity.
    Could I use a half gallon of milk and a quart of buttermilk?

    Reply
  14. Terry

    I am so going to try this with my grandkids! Have a tip for the cheesecloth (which are hard enough to find as it is!). Try going to a Surgical Supply store, or a local drug store that stocks it’s First Aid dept. well. Pick up a standard Cravat (muslin sling/bandage). They’re large triangles of light, but sturdy, fabric. Simply fold the triangle to the desired size (it will always stay a triangle) and sew up one side. I can’t see how stapling would be a problem, if you were careful to contain the whole, rolled seam (if you don’t roll, it leaves bigger gaps than you’d expect).

    Reply
  15. Vida Bartkus

    Is the final cheese tart….in the Detroit area there is a lady p. Juskiene…regina’s mom she makes this cheese but uses Renner…it’s to die for as its not tart…any ideas….

    Reply
  16. Vida Bartkus

    Is the final cheese tart….in the Detroit area there is a lady p. Juskiene she uses rennet…do you have a similar recipe…hers not so tart….Juskiene…regina’s mom she makes this cheese but uses Renner…it’s to die for as its not tart…any ideas….

    Reply
  17. Tina Fiechtner

    Rima, Out of curiosity, can this cheese be made with lactose free milk instead of whole or 2% milk?

    Reply
  18. Angele Ambrozaitis

    I grew up on a farm. We had cows. In the summertime the milk supply would be abundant. If the raw milk was left out overnight, it would sour. My dad loved eating the soured milk with boiled potatoes. But we would just take the soured milk and heat it until it started to curdle. Then we would do the rest as Rima explains. Sometimes, mother would make sweet cheese. It meant that the drained curds would be brought to a boil in fresh milk, she would add butter and some eggs. It was very interesting to watch the procedure because the hot cheese would stretch into strings. At this point she would put it into a bowl and let it chill in the fridge. It was a special treat at holiday time. I am not sure of the proportions of the ingredients as I never wrote it down and now there is no one to ask. Maybe one of your readers knows….

    Reply

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