Food editor aside, I’m by no means the only cook in the newsroom, and a couple of colleagues’ skills — or attempts, at least — put me to shame.
For all the ease in purchasing cheesemaking kits online or at a handful of local stores, however, some thrifty inner voice held me back. I wasn’t too keen on the thought of using a gallon of milk to get one, little ball of mozzarella or a few cups of ricotta.
Then I ran across a recent Los Angeles Times article on quark. Despite the strange name (actually German for “curds”), it was billed as the simplest entry into cheesemaking yet: basically one step beyond creme fraiche, which I’d already successfully made. In addition to requiring no specialized ingredients or equipment, the beginning ratio of dairy products to the end result — about 2 to 1 — seemed more reasonable.
This recipe from the Times promised rich, creamy, fresh cheese with a gentle tang and spreadability — kind of a cross between sour cream and soft ricotta cheese. Variations can be found throughout Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
In just a few minutes, I brought the pan of milk to a simmer, let it cool at room temperature and whisked in the buttermilk. The relatively cold room temperature of my house probably slowed the process of curds forming, so I left it out about eight hours longer than the recipe called for.
But when I transferred it to a cheesecloth-lined strainer this morning to drain all day, the whey was clear just as the recipe indicated. With any luck, I should have cheese for dinner when I get home tonight. Try it yourself.
Suggestions for using quark include:
For breakfast or a snack, adding granola and fresh fruit as you would to yogurt.
Spread over toast or bagels or in between sandwich layers for a little extra tang and richness.
Dolloped over potatoes or rich pasta dishes, even ragus.
Lightened with a little whipped cream and grated, fresh lemon zest as a filling for crepes.
As a filling for omelets, frittatas or ravioli
As a dip mixed with a little fresh goat cheese, paprika and chopped chives.
2 cups whole milk
1⁄2 cup cultured buttermilk
In a stainless-steel, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside until milk is cooled. Whisk in the buttermilk.
Transfer mixture to a glass, ceramic or plastic container and set aside at room temperature until mixture is thickened, with a consistency similar to yogurt or creme fraiche, about 1 day.
Transfer mixture to a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. Refrigerate overnight to drain whey from cheese; whey should be clear, not cloudy, as it is drained.
Use as desired. To store, place cheese in a glass, ceramic or plastic container. Cover and refrigerate up to 4 days.
Makes 1 generous cup.
Quark Tart With Asparagus
3⁄4 pound asparagus, trimmed of tough ends
1⁄4 pound double-smoked slab bacon, cut into 1⁄4-inch cubes (about 1 cup bacon cubes)
3 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
2⁄3 cup quark, or 1⁄2 cup ricotta blended with 2 tablespoons sour cream
3⁄4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup coarsely shredded Emmentaler cheese
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell with a high fluted edge
Heat oven to 400 F.
Blanch the asparagus in a large pot of salted boiling water just until spears turn bright green, about 1 minute. Strain and remove to an ice bath. Cut spears on bias into 1⁄4-inch-thick pieces. Set aside.
In a large skillet, saute the bacon over moderately low heat, stirring often, until it has rendered fat and is crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer bacon bits to paper towels to drain. Add the leeks to drippings and saute until limp and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add sliced asparagus to skillet, toss lightly to mix, then transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.
In bowl of a food processor, combine the quark, cream, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper for about 20 seconds until smooth. Pulse in the eggs, 1 at a time. (Alternatively, quark, cream, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt, pepper and eggs can be whisked in a bowl until creamy.) Pour quark mixture into bowl with vegetables, add the Emmentaler and reserved bacon, and toss well to mix.
Set the pie shell on a heavy-duty baking sheet and pour in quark mixture. Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 F and continue to bake until tart is lightly browned and set like custard, and a knife inserted toward center comes out mostly clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove tart from oven and cool on a rack 45 minutes before slicing. To serve, cut into slim wedges.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
— Recipe adapted by the Los Angeles Times from “The New German Cookbook” by Jean Anderson and Hedy Wurz.