Take some milk, add a little acid and give the mixture time to do its thing — who would have thought homemade cheese could be this simple? What with all the equipment and specialized ingredients I’d read about, cheese making sounded like it was better suited to a chemistry lab than my tiny kitchen. That is, until I tried quark.
I know. Hear the word “quark” and you may conjure up images of dancing physics particles or “Star Trek” characters. Or winding your way through “Finnegans Wake.” Any of which might be even scarier than the thought of actually making cheese.
But “quark” is just the German word for “curds.” A creamy, fresh cheese, quark’s curds come together to form something magical — rich with a gentle tang, it’s spreadable, kind of a cross between sour cream and soft ricotta cheese. Variations of the cheese can be found throughout Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
And it’s easy to make: Bring a couple of cups of milk to a simmer over moderate heat, then let it come to room temperature. Whisk in some acid (typically buttermilk, though some recipes call for lemon juice) and leave the mixture at room temperature for a day or so until curds form and the mixture thickens. Strain it to remove the clear whey, and voila! You’ve got cheese.
Methods vary. I tried more than a dozen recipes searching for the method I liked best. Several were more complicated than what I’ve described — managing all of the individual components, at times hovering over the stove with a thermometer in one hand and a timer in the other, etc. — and it finally dawned on me (after I’d set my alarm so I could wake up on time to check on a batch of cheese incubating in the oven) that perhaps things need not be this complicated.
And, in fact, the most basic method actually made for the best flavor and texture. What’s more, I didn’t even need a thermometer.
I took a couple of batches over to Norbert Wabnig, the Austrian-born owner of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, to see what he thought. He took one bite, then eagerly took another. “This is better than what I carry at the store,” he said, wanting to know my secret.
It’s nothing, really — just a cheese recipe so simple even a beginner like me couldn’t mess it up.
Total time: 25 minutes, plus 1½ to 2 days setting and draining times
Servings: This makes a generous cup of quark.
2 cups whole milk
½ cup cultured buttermilk
1. In a stainless steel, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside until the milk is cooled. Whisk in the buttermilk.
2. Transfer the mixture to a glass, ceramic or plastic container, and set aside at room temperature until the mixture is thickened, with a consistency similar to yogurt or creme fraîche, about 1 day.
3. Transfer the mixture to a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. Refrigerate overnight to drain the whey from the cheese; the whey should be clear, not cloudy, as it is drained.
4. Use as desired. To store, place the cheese in a glass, ceramic or plastic container. Cover and refrigerate up to four days.
Each of 20 tablespoons: 19 calories; 1 gram protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 1 gram fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 3 mg cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 19 mg sodium.
QUARK CREPES WITH FRESH STRAWBERRIES
Total time: 1 hour
Note: Adapted from a recipe in “Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna” by Kurt Gutenbrunner. He calls for a nonstick pan, though a classic crepe pan works well too. The unfilled crepes can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
1 pound (about 3 cups) strawberries, quartered lengthwise
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1/3 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus softened butter, for brushing
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup quark (mascarpone or creme fraîche can be substituted)
Grated zest of ½ lemon
Powdered sugar, for dusting
1. In a medium bowl, toss the strawberries with the vanilla and one-fourth cup sugar. Macerate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in another medium bowl, whisk the flour with the salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. Whisk in the milk, eggs and melted butter until the batter is smooth. Set aside for 15 minutes.
3. Strain the batter through a fine sieve set over a small bowl. Spray a 10-inch nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-low heat. Add one-fourth cup of the batter, tilting the skillet to coat the bottom evenly, and cook until the edges of the crepe are lightly browned, about 1 minute.