Do you want to know the food product from Poland I miss the most? Polish style farmer’s cheese. During my childhood this was my favorite food and it was relatively easy to get, unlike most other food products. During the 80s most of food items were rationed per person. However this cheese was never rationed.
I would walk into the often times bare market and get the whiff of that unique sour smell the cheese produced, especially strong when there was no A/C. I would walk to the counter and look at the angry lady who would be glaring at me for no reason or the opposite spectrum of pretending I didn’t exist. To her left would be the cheese on a big tray, wrapped in wax paper, often flies swirling around trying to get “free samples”. The woman would look down from her counter and say in Polish “What do you want?”. She personified misery of the 80’s communism. I would ask for one brick, which was a pound. I swear the ladies would think I just slapped their children in front of them. They would begrudgingly ring me up. I didn’t need my ration coupon because this wasn’t rationed.
The cheese was produced locally so it was very fresh. Every city in Poland had their own dairy coop that produced its own brand of this type of cheese. My favorite was from the Sierpc. Today, things are done a little differently. Large corporations produce the cheese now, and they ship it away in the sanitary, vacuumed-sealed packaging.
There hasn’t been a massive Polish immigration to California, like other states, so unfortunately good, Polish cottage cheese is very hard to find here. That’s why I love Mexican markets. I might have made you scratch your head with that statement. Polish Cottage cheese is very similar to Queso Fresco. The Mexican cheese is a little drier and sweeter than Polish cottage cheese, but is very similar in every other respect. I use it for Polish dishes and you could hardly tell. Although I would love to be able to buy the real thing once in a while, I would even put up with the angry lady who sold it and stare once again into a past that was happily forgotten.
I am not sure if you know this, but you can make farmers cheese at home. In Poland we would make it from milk that naturally curdles (goes sour before is being boiled) and I think this is the twist that gives Polish farmer’s cheese that distinctive, acidic taste.
Most people in US make cheese from regular milk with vinegar or lemon juice. I am going to give you my aunt’s recipe as well as the one that is being practiced by Americans. Try both of them and compare the difference in flavor.
Ingredients (make 1 pound):
Aunt Barbara’s way
- 1 gallon whole milk, Non-Homogenized (requirement), possibly unpasteurized
- 1 pinch salt
- Pour milk in large ceramic or glass pot and set aside on the kitchen counter for 2-3 days, until naturally curdles (gets sour) in the room temperature.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot; when the milk begins to boil (small bubbles will first appear at the edges), turn off the heat.
- Pour the milk through the fine mesh colander or a cheesecloth to catch the curds; what is left in the cheesecloth is the Farmer’s Cheese (the liquid is the whey; some people keep the whey and drink it, but I throw it away).
- Gather the cloth around the cheese, and squeeze out as much of the whey as you can; wrap in plastic, or place in an airtight container; store in the refrigerator.
Original American way
- 1 gallon whole milk
- strained juice of 1 large lemon
- 1 pinch salt
- Pour the milk into a large pot, and stir in a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pot.
- When the milk begins to boil (small bubbles will first appear at the edges), turn off the heat; stir lemon juice into the milk and the milk will curdle, you may need to wait 5 or 10 minutes.
- Line a sieve or colander with a cheesecloth, and pour the milk through the cloth to catch the curds.