Monday, June 18, 2012

Jāņu siers - how to tie the cheese!

In preparation for our weekend visit to Chatenet I spent a day “tying the cheese.” I’ll tell you more about the symbolism of Jāņu siers (summer solstice cheese) in a later post, but for now I’ll leave it at this; previous to this year I tried, unsuccessfully, to make this cheese at least four times. My frequent phone calls to the professionals in my family the previous years prompted my grandmother and aunt to spend a day with me showing me the process last summer, and so it was with renewed confidence that I started the task this year.

I believe that one of the main reasons I was unsuccessful up until this year was due to the ingredients. The family recipe I use calls for dry curd cottage cheese, and I have spent countless hours calling stores in South Carolina and Georgia searching for this product. Supposedly farmer’s cheese works the same, and even regular cottage cheese can be used, but the dry curd is the most favorable to work with. However, one of the foods on my list of “things not sold in France” is cottage cheese, so I headed to the Geant Casino Greek section for 3 pounds of ricotta cheese. Oops, I mean 1.36 kg.

Another needed item I’ve had problems finding in the USA is cheesecloth; I guess many people don’t make their own cheese anymore. The cheesecloth is also where “tying the cheese” (siet Jāņu sieru) comes in, the last step is to wrap the cheese in cheesecloth and refrigerate it. Luckily I have a roll of cheesecloth from a previous attempt.

The process can be messy and can require a significant amount of time - it was on a year of a failed attempt that I spent four hours stirring my curds.

However the end result is rewarding; even my failed attempts tasted right, it was just that the consistency was more like a spread than cheese. It must have been the cheese tying lessons from last year; this year, for the first time the result of my attempt was a sucess!

So for those brave souls out there looking to tie the cheese, this is what you’ll need (as per my great grandmother's recipe)
2 lb dry curd cottage cheese (or farmer’s cheese, regular cottage cheese, ricotta cheese…)
½ gallon milk
2-4 cups of water
3-4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (which also isn’t available here, I used a fermented milk sold in the Halal section)
¼ cup butter
1 tablespoon caraway seed
salt to taste
Cheese cloth

1. Heat the milk and water to almost boiling. I’ve decided this is a crucial step, just keep it from boiling over but heat until starting to bubble.

2. Separate the eggs and mix egg whites with cottage cheese. (Keep the yolks, you'll need them in a few steps.) Add to the almost-boiling milk, mix well.

3. Add the buttermilk and mix.

4. Here comes the tricky part… Lower the heat, and continue stirring until the mixture separates into curds and whey. I found that allowing the mixture to return to almost boiling after adding the buttermilk, and afterwards keeping the heat just low enough to prevent it from burning, but higher than “low” were instrumental in a successful separation. Note: keep stirring!!! My grandmother says this usually takes between 20 minutes to an hour, but my godmother’s separates in about 5 minutes, and I’ve kept at it for four hours without results. This year it took 36.5 minutes. How can you tell the mixture has separated? It looks different, thicker, less melted more gummy bits… Sorry, that’s all I’ve got! Bon courage!

5. Cut the cheesecloth to fit in a colander and strain the mixture. I use clothespins to clip the sides and put the whole thing in the sink, so that when you pour the hot mixture in, the cheesecloth stays in place and there is less of a mess.

6. In a clean pot melt the butter, and then add the caraway, the curds from the cheesecloth, the egg yolks and salt to taste.

7. Over a low heat knead the mixture with a wooden spoon until it “goes together.” I’ve been told the longer you knead it the better. What does “go together” look like? It all sticks together in a big ball.

8. Wrap the finished product in cheesecloth and place in refrigerator. I use a strainer lined with cheesecloth, placed over a bowl to catch the last juice, with a plate on top for some weight. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

There are many variations on the recipe out there, and our Chatenet host said she's read that adding a drop of lemon juice can help the separation. However, this recipe tastes like Jāņi with my grandparents on their Wisconsin farm, so I think I'll stick with it. I have a whole year to find a source for dry curd cottage cheese! I wish everyone luck in their preparations for Jāņi!

Labvakari Jāņu māte,
Vai gaidīji Jāņu bērnus?
Vai sasēji lielu sieru?
Vai ir silta istabiņa?

Nākat šurpu, Jāņa bērni,
Nākat lieli, nākat mazi,
Lieliem došu saldu alu,
Maziem siera gabaliņu.

Also in this series -


  1. I'm glad to hear that this year was a success! I have so many recipes that I am just not brave enough to try without the "right" ingredients.

  2. I watched my mom make her second batch yesterday. She said I had to learn so I could make it for my husband (insert eye rolling because that's what you do when your mother says something like that - ha! ha!) Her recipe is very similar to the one you have but she uses 1 gallon of Vitamin D milk, no buttermilk and only 3 eggs. It's also difficult to find dry curd cottage cheese around here so my mom just buys regular and drains as much liquid as possible and then mashes it with a potato masher to get it to be as small in curd as possible. I was able to sample the 1st batch and it was yummy. I'm hoping to attempt making some possibly this Thursday. This week is crazy busy and then Friday it's off to Garezers for Jani.

  3. I ate fried cheese curds on our trip to WI. We also spent a day in Chicago at that wonderful museum. But I must say that I don't know how natives put up with all that traffic - all the time! (Of course, maybe that's why you didn't stay there. hehehe)

  4. I keep wanting to give it a try. This may be my year, thank you for the post!

  5. Thank you for the recipe. I have always wanted to try making cheese, but the unpasteurized milk most recipes require is not available here. You have renewed my interest, and I am looking forward to following you!

    (Found you through the Planet Baby Post of the Month Club.)

  6. That's so exciting - congratulations! I love your poppy photo, of course :) XOL

  7. Oh Liene. I meant to comment on your Jāņu series of posts as I found them fascinating. You explained it all so delightfully. I am sooo impressed at your cheese-making efforts! Thanks for joining the POTMC. J x

  8. You are very dedicated to try so hard to make this family recipe despite stiring for 4 hours last time! I'm so glad that it worked out for you. Now you can proudly say you are able to carry on a family tradition for another generation!

  9. Wow, this looks like a major undertaking! And good for you for trying it after several unsuccessful attempts last year. I had never heard of this holiday (or tying the cheese!) before, so thank you for sharing at the Culture Swapper!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...