Growing up in Ukraine, we were consuming vast quantities of farmer cheese. It was a staple, the kind of thing that you almost certainly would find in anyone’s fridge. It was cheap, it was filling, and it was made from whole milk. Not ricotta. And certainly not the slimy clumpy foodstuff charmingly called “cottage cheese” — I can only tolerate the “California style” version of it, and only if it’s cooked into something.
To much surprise, we found no traces of farmer cheese in the U.S. upon arrival in 1997. Well, we didn’t really know where to look back then, but we were shocked to find that most people didn’t even know what it was. Meanwhile, farmer cheese is one of the easiest things to make if you have good milk on hand. You let the milk sour, then you lightly heat it and drain the liquid. Voila!
My ex-compatriots figured out that uber-pasteurized, mega-homogenized and artificially hyper-vitaminized milk in the States is highly resistant to souring. Rather, it would sit for days and days on a counter, until one day you find it completely putrid and unusable. So my creative folks learned to improvise — they sour milk forcibly with yogurt, kefir, or sour cream, thus inoculating it with lactic bacteria, which gives raw milk its delicate, pleasantly sour curd when fermented naturally.
If you have access to raw milk, a vanishing nutritional treasure in this country, consider yourself in luck. Because you simply can’t ruin raw milk (well, unless you drop some dishwashing liquid into it, I guess). It sours quickly, sometimes in a matter of hours; and what you get as a result is a load of possibilities, one of which, of course, is farmer cheese.
Traditionally, making farmer cheese requires slow and gentle heating, until curds visibly separate from whey. At this point you drain the whey and let the cheese strain the remaining liquid for a few hours, by hanging the cheese cloth pouch over the sink. I manage to skip even the heating step. I let my milk sour a bit longer, sometimes using real kefir as inoculant to speed up the souring process, and strain it over a tea towel overnight. I end up with two pounds (from 1 gallon of whole raw cow’s milk) of sheer bliss — delicate, creamy, lightly tart deliciousness. You can eat it raw with yogurt, sour cream, berries, honey or raisins, you can add it to salads in place of creamy goat cheese (may post later if I am in the mood), you can use it anywhere where cream cheese would be called upon — cheesecakes, turnovers, danishes, creamy dips, etc. Or you let the cheese take the spotlight and feature it in either Lazy Dumplings (look them up, if you are not lazy), or make my favorite childhood breakfast — Cheese Patties.
Cheese patties were a typical Sunday morning breakfast for us, kind of like pancakes for Americans. They are super easy to make, and just as easy to eat. You can adjust the sugar to your liking, or do away with it completely — my grandpa made them salty and I loved them just as much.
You can top them with whipped cream, sour cream or yogurt, or just a light dusting of powdered sugar. You can put fruit jam or honey on top — it’s all up to you.
The basic requirement is — find the cooking oil that doesn’t give off strong aroma; no olive oil. We used to cook everything in sunflower oil back in home, which is moderately aromatic. I do not recommend canola oil and the likes, simply because they aren’t healthy when heated. Best choice for frying these patties is coconut oil — it tolerates high heat very well, and doesn’t pass the coconut taste to the food, believe it or not.
Farmer Cheese Patties
- 1 lbs of farmer cheese (Friendship Farmer Cheese is the second best option, if you don’t have homemade)
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 tsp salt (or more, if you are making a salty batch)
- 4-5 tbsp sugar (white or brown), you may want to adjust to your taste (optional)
- pinch of cinnamon (optional)
- zest of 1/2 lemon (optional)
- raisins (optional)
- 1 cup + some more all-purpose flour, enough to make moderately stiff dough
- coconut oil for frying
Gently mix all the ingredients except flour and coconut oil.
Add flour in 1/4 cup increments, mixing it in thoroughly before the next batch. The amount of flour changes from batch to batch due to variation in cheese consistency, the size of the egg, the amount of sugar, etc. Make the dough moderately stiff, it needs to be pliable, and will be somewhat sticky. Turn the dough out onto a liberally floured surface.
Roll the dough into a loaf, about 3″ thick.
With a knife dipped in flour, cut the loaf into 1″ round slices. Press the slices down gently on the cut side to form patties, using your three middle fingers dipped in flour.
Heat the skillet with coconut oil in it until lightly smoky on medium-high. Fry patties a few minutes on both sides, until golden brown. Add more oil if necessary.
Remove patties from the skillet and drain the excess oil by placing them on a paper towel for a few minutes.
Enjoy while hot or warm.