Auburn Meadow Farm

A modern heritage foodstead

the local food challenge continues… make fresh cheese at home with no special equipment or ingredients

Quark?? What’s Quark?

Quark is a traditional cultured or soured-milk soft cheese enjoyed all over Germany, Poland and Austria. You can eat it straight like cottage cheese, as a spread on bread, for dessert with fruit and you can bake with it.

It’s great sprinkled with cinnamon & drizzled with honey, or mixed with fresh herbs & drizzled with olive oil or as an ingredient replacing sour cream, yogurt or mayonnaise in dips, dressings and spreads.

Quark can be made either low-fat or extra creamy by adding cream back in at the end. I like mine best made with whole, non-homogenized (cream line) milk.

Quark is a great cheese to begin with since it’s so easily made with simple ingredients found in any kitchen. The culture which causes the milk to sour & thicken is in the buttermilk so be sure you buy buttermilk specifically labeled as having live cultures or you will get the wrong kind of bacterial growth.

We began Monday with a quest to find some non-homogenized (or cream line) milk produced here at home.  Not to worry if you missed that part, you can still make Quark with your regular milk, but the yield and the curd may be negatively impacted. To learn more about the best milk choices for home cheesemaking and how to adapt when the best choice isn’t available, this is an excellent article from our friends at New England Cheesemaking Supply.  They wrote the book on home dairy, literally.

Better yet, you still have time to complete the first part of the challengeget out there and find some locally produced cream line (non-homogenized) milk – that is the point, remember?

Quick Overview of the Process:

  • Heat the milk and add the culture (15 minutes)
  • Allow it to sit covered (12-24 hours unattended)
  • Drain the curds (15 min. of your time plus 4-8 hours unattended)

What you need:

  • 1 gallon milk – whole, 2% or skim. Not ultra-pasteurized. Non-homogenized Cream line milk is the best.
  • 2 TBS – ¼ cup cultured buttermilk – this is the culture
  • Stainless Stock pot large enough to hold a gallon of milk
  • Kitchen thermometer
  • Spoon or ladle
  • Colander & clean tightly woven cloth. This can be an old pillowcase, dress shirt, paper coffee filter (for smaller batches) or non-terrycloth dish towel. Nylon Tricot from the fabric store also works well. What does not work well are the packages of cheesecloth you can buy at the grocery store.
  • Large bowl to nest the colander in – be sure there’s some space between the colander and the bottom of the bowl or the cheese be sitting in the whey and won’t drain.

The everyday, mundane cheesemaking supplies in my kitchen – nothing scary here

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Before you start:

  • Clear space for your bowl & colander in the refrigerator
  • Wash your equipment in hot, soapy water rinsing thoroughly
  • Wipe down your counters & sink with 2 TBS bleach in 1 gallon lukewarm water
  • Wash your hands well with soap and warm water

Heat the milk to 86ºF. You do this by placing the pot of milk directly on the burner. Make sure to heat the milk slowly and stir it gently as it heats.  Pay close attention at this step – it’s not exciting, but burning the milk will flavor the cheese and not in a good way.  Once the milk is at 86º, stir in the buttermilk and remove from heat.

Find a cool, quiet place in your house that’s not too humid or too damp and be aware that any powerful odors will be absorbed by the milk.  Leave the pot of milk covered and undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours while the culture in the buttermilk works to produce acid and coagulation of the curd. The temperature should be allowed to slowly drop to 68-71F during this time. 
The actual amount of time will vary depending on your milk, temperature & humidity  and how firm you want your final Quark. Note the time you started – I just write it on a post-it and attach to the lid of the pot.

You can tell when the curd is right when one or both of these happen:

  • A thin layer of yellow liquid (whey) forms on the surface and the curd begins pulling away from the sides like soft gelatin.
  • When you insert a knife blade flat side up at a 45 degree angle into the curd and lift up gently, the cheese will split & break cleanly, like softly set gelatin.

The curds can now be transferred to a colander lined with butter muslin. Simply pour the contents of the stock pot gently into the cloth-lined colander.

your quark will drain from this xxxxxxxxto this: as soft or stiff as you like

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The 4 corners of the cloth are brought together and tied off to form a draining bag. If you like, this can be opened at intervals during the draining and the curds scraped from the cloth to the center for better draining although I rarely bother.

Your draining bag can now be suspended from a hook or even from your faucet.  Make sure you hang the bag over a pot, sink or bowl to capture the draining whey. Confession: I rarely hang my draining bag anymore.  It is messy and awkward so I just empty the whey bowl early on – it fills quickly, then slows – leave the colander nested in the bowl, fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the top, weight it with a small plate and leave in the fridge. It is slower, but tidier and I don’t have to adjust my schedule to check on my cheese.  If you want to get a sustainability gold star, save your whey for fermenting, add to soups, breads, or baked goods. It’s got about half the nutrition of the original milk, so it’s a shame to pour it down the drain…

Allow to drain for 12-24 hours (or longer if you like your cheese really stiff) in a place where the temperature is at 68-72F.  If you drain in the fridge, it may take longer, but will still get there. The actual draining time will determine the dryness of your final cheese.

Eat quark!  spread on bread, top with olives & drizzle with olive oil or go sweet and sprinkle with cinnamon & drizzle with honey. Good with fruit or crackers.

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The beauty of making your own cheese is that you can make it exactly the way you like it.  Choose a buttermilk you enjoy to use as a culture, because your cheese will taste like the buttermilk. If you drain it longer, your cheese will be drier. If you use low-fat milk, your cheese will be more tart and yield less.

Quark does not traditionally have salt, but since it’s my cheese, I can make it any way I want.  I stir in ¼ – ½ tsp kosher salt before storing my quark in a recycled 32 ounce yogurt container.  The container is usually nearly to very full.

One gallon should yield a nearly full 32 ounce container, although yield will be affected by the firmness of your curd and the amount of fat in the milk (higher fat content typically yields more cheese).

Quark also has a slightly lumpy texture – you can whip it smoother if you prefer.

Aside from the fact that you should be very proud of yourself for having made quark, if you’d like to win prizes for your effort, here’s how to complete your challenge:

Visit us here and leave a comment and register to win a $25.00 gift certificate from our friends at the East End Food Co-op – a perfect place to visit when you’re on a dairy exploration mission!  To be eligible, comments must be posted by midnight Sunday, September 16.

What do we want to know?

  • How did your quark making go
  • Did you learn anything valuable we can all benefit from
  • How did you use your Quark
  • Flaming failures are always entertaining
  • What did you think of the money savings and/or quality difference.
  • Anything else you found interesting and relevant

Okay, people, you have your mission:  Get Quarking!

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6 comments on “the local food challenge continues… make fresh cheese at home with no special equipment or ingredients

  1. Gordon Milligan
    September 12, 2012

    Thanks for sharing this, I will try this sometime it looks tasty.

    • Auburn Meadow Farm
      September 12, 2012

      Thanks for the visit Gordon. You’ll be glad you did – making your own is the only way I know to get it just the way I like it – cheap, local, no additives or preservatives or gelatins… it’s so easy

  2. Tammy
    September 13, 2012

    Wow, I have never tried this and would like to. This looks like a great winter weekend project.

    • Auburn Meadow Farm
      September 14, 2012

      I hope you’ve got some other stuff planned too Tammy, because once you’re gathered all your equipment and found your milk, there’s not really much more to it…

  3. mosaica
    September 16, 2012

    Mm! This tasty & easy-peasy cheese is also very popular in Denmark, where I’m from, where we spell it `kvark.’ I’ve also been making a lot of labneh lately: Middle-Eastern take on thickened & slightly salted yogurt cheese, which I love sprinkled with za’atar & drizzled with olive oil. Breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner of champions :-)

    • Auburn Meadow Farm
      September 16, 2012

      I love all that stuff – I can’t imagine going back to store-bought…

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