Cheese, indeed

But not Jewish old-world-style baked farmer’s cheese

By
December 17, 2007

My first experiment with making cheese was actually a lot more successful than my earlier post suggested. Had I waited an hour or two more before reporting, I would have changed my tune.

Just as I was preparing to turn the mass into yogurt, the miracle of curds was before me. As instructed, I carefully spooned the gentle quivering curds into a colander lined with moistened cheesecloth and placed the entire apparatus over a bowl deep enough to catch the whey.

It took three hours for the curds to drain sufficiently to tie them up in their cheesecloth package. I used the wire from an old television antenna to hang the bag on a kitchen-cabinet knob. (I suppose kitchen twine would have been more prudent, but I was in a fit of kitchen wizardry.)

The how-to manual and the result.

I let the curds drip free of the remaining whey for a few more hours and was rewarded — and surprised — by its final form. What lay before me was the white, moist, sweet-flavored farmer’s cheese of my youth.

Farmer’s cheese, as a category, can be many things. As sold locally here in Oregon, it’s usually a hard cheese. But as sold back east, particularly in New York City, it is soft, tender, and white, with a taste of sweet cream.

As distinct from cottage cheese, its curds are finer, the texture less moist, and the flavor less “zippy.” Growing up, we often chose farmer’s cheese instead of cream cheese for our bagels. It was also the base for one of our favorite treats: blintzes.

Ah, blintzes, what can I say? Actually, they have been formative to my culinary legacy in Portland. For a number of years, I held the title of Portland’s “blintz queen,” and with no exaggeration I must have made thousands and thousands in my time. I even sold them wholesale to hotels, restaurants, and delis in the area. But I never started with the farmer’s cheese of my youth, because I could never find it. The best I could do was make a concoction as close to the real thing as I could muster.

Every week, Portland’s Sunshine Dairy would deliver five-pound tubs of dry-curd cottage cheese to my café, which I would nudge into the equivalent structure of East Coast farmer’s cheese. At the time, it suited my purposes, but not until I tried my hand at making fresh cheese did I find what I was looking for. I could have eaten it straight away or sweetened it and folded it into blintzes, but I had something else in mind.

Not the baked farmer’s cheese of Harriet’s dreams.

There is no exact way to describe Jewish old-world-style baked farmer’s cheese (as opposed to fresh farmer’s cheese), except to say it is lighter than cream cheese, denser then ricotta, and redolent of raisins, nuts, and cinnamon. Its smooth texture and sweet nutty flavor made it perfect for spreading on the wonderfully crusted sliced pumpernickel bread I bought to go with it. It was the treat I most looked forward to, which, in a world of great danishes, coffee cakes, and strudel, is saying a lot.

Moved by the memory, I searched the Internet for baked farmer’s cheese recipes, but other than a few somewhat suspect variations, I never found what I was searching for. I did find menus from Jewish delis back east that still sold the stuff, but no reliable instructions for making it. Undaunted, I set off for the promised land on my own.

I’ll spare you the details by saying, instead, that were it not for nostalgia, I doubt I could have choked down the dry crumbly mass of curd, raisins, and walnuts that resulted from my first try. I was somewhat distraught, thinking of all the other things I could have done with the ball in its original form, but I did not lose hope. As they say, a thing worth loving is a thing worth fighting for. So it’s back to the kitchen in hopes of getting it right.

And when all is as I remember, I will tackle the pumpernickel.

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1. by Carrie Floyd on Dec 17, 2007 at 10:53 PM PST

Blessed are the cheesemakers! I’ve always wondered about farmers’ cheese —what it is, why it’s specified in certain recipes — now I know. But I’m curious, is it tangy like yogurt cheese?

2. by Gina on Dec 21, 2007 at 11:57 AM PST

I am also a new convert to the religion of home cheesemaking. (My latest efforts have yielded some delicious homemade mozzarellas a la Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle!) But I HIGHLY recommend that you check out the extremely informative cheesemaking pages of one Dr. David Fankhauser, a chemistry professor in Ohio. I have made some fine cream, cottage, AND farmer’s cheeses using his methods. Here’s the link: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/Fankhauser/Cheese/Cheese.html

Happy cheesemaking! --Gina

3. by barbara on Jan 2, 2008 at 7:32 AM PST

I’m not an expert on baked farmer cheese,but while checking with my local appetizing store (Long Island,NY)he let it slip that a little sour cream is what gives that wonderful texture. I have not tried this since my online search was for a diet baked farmer cheese with pineapple recipe.
Barbara

4. by Fasenfest on Jan 4, 2008 at 9:22 AM PST

Thank you all for the information. As for the sour cream, I am excited for the clue and am greatly humbled that you would think to inquire on the matter. And I will check out David Frankhauser’s site. What a wealth of information community can offer.

Thanks all
Harriet

5. by jim lowry on Jul 22, 2008 at 5:21 PM PDT

I would be curious to know how you think Michigan Brand small curd cottage cheese compares to what you call Farmer’s Cheese. It is very unique - we’ve never seen anything like it but my wife has been eating it for 40+ years. Would love your opinion if you could find some.

jim lowry

6. by Fasenfest on Jul 23, 2008 at 7:15 AM PDT

Hey Jim,

If I find some I will surely let you know. I have not seen any in the markets though.

Harriet

7. by joan Katz on May 6, 2009 at 6:31 PM PDT

I would like a recipe for baked vegetable farmer cheese, I know you add eggs and minced vegetables but what else do you add.? Thank you Joan Katz

8. by Fasenfest on May 7, 2009 at 8:25 AM PDT

Hey Joan,

You know, I never triumphed the baked farmer’s cheese I was after. Mostly, I assume, cause I never made farmer cheese as I remembered it. It’s an East Coast thing and Friendship Cheese used to make it. So that was that I thought. But one day I found Friendship Farmer’s cheese in a russian deli here in Portland, Or. I was so excited I went on a blintze making craze. Started inviting friends for a real Sunday brunch spread -- blintzes, bagels & lox and the New York Times (oh to be home again). It was heaven.

But the thrill and fascination has passed a bit so I will just have to turn the torch over to you. When you figure it out - let me know. I’m thinking, however, that you will need to wrap the mass in cheese cloth (like a sausage) and bake it at a low temp. Why? I’m not sure but I’m thinking that might be important.

9. by felicia on Jul 6, 2009 at 9:25 PM PDT

hey, i came across your post while trying to find farmer’s cheese--the kind you mention, in my area of NC (friendship, i can sometimes find at fresh market), anyway, after reading your post and comments-it brought back memories of being a kid, especially the vegetable farmer’s cheese. So off to google I went an found this:
http://www.benscheeseplanet.com/Baked_Farmer_Cheese/Baked_Vegetable_Farmer_Cheese..html

the entire site is not complete, but it looks delicious and reputable.

Anyway, I’m glad I found your site and I’m also having a huge craving for Blintzes now, my grandmother, may she rest in peace, made some badass ones.

10. by Fasenfest on Jul 7, 2009 at 7:21 AM PDT

Hey Felicia,

You are my new best friend. Thank you so much. I’m gonna call today and find out about that baked cheese with raisins and nuts. And since mom is coming for 10 weeks to visit from Florida, I will have company in the walk down memory lane.

Much appreciation, Harriet

11. by Gerry Olson on Jan 17, 2010 at 11:18 AM PST

FYI - Michigan Brand cottage cheese is still too wet for the consistency of farmer’s cheese. Think crumbled feta or queso fresco.

I am embarking on my first attempt at farmer’s cheese needed for making pierogies...wish me luck!

12. by anonymous on Jan 10, 2011 at 6:56 PM PST

If you live in the Detroit area, Farmer’s Cheese can be purchased at the Polish Market. I opened the package today. Exactly like the cheese I remember from years ago. I mixed it with chopped radish, scallion, parsley and a little salt and pepper today for lunch on whole-grain crackers.
http://thepolishmarketinc.com/

13. by Brittany Nicastro on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:58 AM PST

Dear Harriet!

Do you remember which Russian deli had Friendship cheese?! It’s my favorite and I can’t find it anywhere in Portland :(

Thanks so much!
Britt

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