Tvorog: tangy…creamy… yummy cheese!
April 8, 2010 in Recipes · 7 comments
As promised a few days ago over in the blog section, here is a recipe for making tvorog, a soft cheese that is ubiquitous in Russian cooking. Dictionaries usually translate tvorog as cottage cheese, which I think is incorrect – I find that tvorog bears little resemblance to American-style cottage cheese, with its relatively large curd nuggets and a slightly salty taste. Tvorog has a creamier texture and tastes slightly tart, not salty. I think it’s a lot more similar to farmer’s cheese or perhaps ricotta – or even goat cheese – than to cottage cheese.
Naming/translation issues aside, here is what you will need to make tvorog:
- Plain, unflavored buttermilk or kefir (make sure the fat content is at least 1.5% – I used 1% kefir once and it didn’t work, so even half a percent makes a difference)
- A pot
- A colander
- A piece of cheesecloth
Pour the buttermilk or kefir into the pot. Place it on a burner and set the heat to the lowest setting. After 1-1.5 hours, the buttermilk/kefir should separate, with nearly-clear liquid (whey) on top and a thick white mass (curds) on the bottom. When this happens, remove the pot from heat and let it cool. Line the colander with two layers of cheese cloth and set it over the sink or, if you want to capture and use the whey, over a large bowl. Pour the contents of the pot into the colander and let the whey drain; do not squeeze the curds. Break up the drained curds with a spoon and taste them. If you like the texture, you’re done – your tvorog is ready. If you want your tvorog to be drier, gather up the ends of the cheesecloth, tie with a string, and hang over the sink or a bowl for several hours or overnight.
Leftover whey can be used in soups such as borscht to give them a slightly acidic taste. It can also be chilled in the fridge and consumed as a beverage. In Russia, whey is prized for its health properties.
In Russia, tvorog is often eaten as is, topped a dollop of sour cream. With a piece of bread and a cup of tea, it makes a delicious simple snack or light meal. During my Moscow childhood, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ apartment, and our evening meals frequently included a dish of tvorog with sour cream. My grandmother almost always had a fresh batch of tvorog draining over the sink, hanging from a piece of elastic attached to the corner of the kitchen cabinet.
Today, I still enjoy tvorog with sour cream, although I find that American sour cream is too thick to properly soak through and moisten the tvorog. I also love to eat it with homemade preserves (such as the apricot/rhubarb jam that I made last summer) or pile it on top of a green salad or some grated beets (raw or cooked), sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and walnuts.
Not only is tvorog delicious in its “raw” state – it is also used in a multitude of Russian recipes. Here are just a few examples:
- Syrniki (also known as tvorozhniki) – plump round patties made of tvorog mixed with egg, flour, sugar, and sometimes raisins or lemon zest, then pan-fried
- Lenivye vareniki – the name means “lazy vareniki” because, instead of making dough and stuffing it with tvorog filling, as you would for proper vareniki, you mix all the ingredients together – tvorog, egg, and flour. The batter is then shaped into thin sausages and sliced into roughly one-inch chunks, which are boiled, drained, and eaten with sour cream and/or butter.
- Tvorog cake - a super-easy and yummy cake with sweetened tvorog enclosed in crumbled pastry, sometimes with an additional layer of fruit, berries, or jam.
There is a number of other ways to make tvorog. Some involve mixing kefir and milk; others do not involve kefir or buttermilk at all but instead have you ferment milk in a certain way and then turn it into tvorog. I will probably try these other methods at some point, but I feel that the recipe I use produces the same or very similar results with a lot less work.